Friday 23 Feb 2024
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KUALA LUMPUR (March 16): Prominent migrant rights specialist Andy Hall says that he will not be quitting Sime Darby Plantation Bhd (SDP)’s Expert Stakeholder Human Rights Assessment Commission, following the company’s decision to withdraw its legal action against non-governmental organisation Liberty Shared’s managing director Duncan Jepson.

Hall said SDP’s move reflects a genuine show of good faith from the company’s leadership to sustainability and longer-term growth in areas of human rights, transparency and stakeholder engagement.

“Activists from NGOs, trade unions and community groups need to be able to undertake their important and independent work in promoting responsible corporate conduct in societies across the world, without fear of legal action,” he said in an exclusive statement to The Edge.

“Companies that are receptive to constructive criticism and seek to engage openly and transparently with civil society actors, whatever their views, will surely have available to them stronger and more sustainable due diligence processes to combat human rights risks in their operations and supply chains in the long run, than those that engage in litigation,” he added.

Last week, SDP said it has initiated legal action for discovery against Jepson in the US,  to obtain information pertaining to a complaint filed by him with the Securities Commission Malaysia against the planter. Jepson, in his complaint, alleged that SDP had made wrongful disclosures in its 2019 Sustainability Report.

Hall said following SDP’s decision to withdraw its legal action, he hopes the Expert Stakeholder Human Rights Assessment Commission will be further strengthened and “can return to its defined focus of supporting and complementing (independent consultant) Impactt’s comprehensive investigation into alleged forced labour in SDP’s operations.”

The activist said the withdrawal of the legal action is an opportunity for SDP to again focus primarily on demonstration to the public and its key stakeholders, its intention to work towards a better future for the industry’s workers.

“Specifically, SPD can also now re-focus its efforts on ensuring that any indicators of forced labour amongst its own foreign workforce are investigated and remediated in a worker-centric and fully transparent way.

“As this legal action for discovery has now been withdrawn, I have decided to continue to work alongside the SDP Board and Impactt as a member of SDP’s Expert Stakeholder Human Rights Assessment Commission, in contributing to support further moves by SDP towards a situation where it’s operations are considered free of systemic forced labour as soon as possible,” he added.

Over the weekend, Reuters had reported that Hall was considering leaving the commission, after its legal action against Jepson.

SDP’s shares closed one sen or 0.2% lower at RM4.89 today, valuing the planter at RM33.67 billion.

Edited ByS Kanagaraju
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