KUALA LUMPUR (March 11): Sime Darby Plantation Bhd (SDP) has commenced legal proceedings against non-governmental organisation (NGO) Liberty Shared’s managing director Duncan Jepson to obtain information pertaining to a complaint filed by Jepson with the Securities Commission Malaysia (SC) against the planter.
In a statement, the plantation giant said it had announced legal proceedings for the discovery of critical information against Jepson on March 9 in the Eastern District of Virginia, US. SDP said the purpose of the proceedings is to obtain important information pertaining to a complaint filed by Jepson with the SC, which alleged that SDP had made wrongful disclosures in its 2019 Sustainability Report.
The SC has commenced investigations into Jepson’s complaint and had accordingly sought additional information from SDP, the planter added. SDP said it will fully cooperate with the SC, and as such said it was vitally important that SDP obtain limited but critical information from the complaint filed by Jepson.
“This is the first time in SDP’s 200-year history that we have resorted to taking legal action against an NGO. SDP engages with non-governmental and civil society organisations across the world, supportive and respectful of the important role they play in society. It is this relationship of mutual respect that has allowed SDP to become an industry leader, trusted by our peers, customers, and important stakeholders like highly reputable NGOs,” it said.
SDP said that despite several direct and indirect engagements, Jepson continues to withhold vital information that could have helped the plantation workers that he has claimed to champion.
“SDP had in fact appointed PwC Singapore in October 2020, on Jepson’s request, to share with us the information necessary to address the alleged issues found in our plantations. Subsequently, PwC Singapore appointed yet another individual who works closely with Jepson and Liberty Shared, again on Jepson’s request. Neither PwC Singapore nor the individual have been able to share the material information needed to address any issues that may exist in our plantations,” SDP noted.
“Meanwhile, Jepson has expressed his view that the appointment of NGOs to assist SDP would not be ideal as, in his opinion, 'social compliance specialists will not be able to offer an honest assessment of corporate governance and internal controls'. He also continues to withhold information despite repeated assurances that our main concern is the wellbeing of our workforce and that at SDP, whistleblowers are protected as a matter of course.” it added.
Liberty Shared had filed a complaint with the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on April 20, 2020, alleging the use of forced labour in the production of palm oil at SDP’s Malaysian estates. SDP was made aware of this complaint on July 7, 2020, where the NGO had issued a summary of the complaint on its website. According to SDP, this summary did not contain sufficient information to allow it to close any alleged gaps in its operations that would have benefitted its workforce.
In December 2020, the CBP had placed a withhold release order on SDP.
On March 1, SDP appointed a Third-Party Human Rights Commission to offer independent and expert assessments of the company’s entire Malaysian operations.
At Bursa Malaysia's afternoon break, SDP was down 0.81% or four sen at RM4.91, valuing it at RM33.73 billion. It saw 857,600 shares done.
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