FGV: WSJ journalist not ethical, didn't identify himself

(Bernama) KUALA LUMPUR: Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd (FGV) has investigated thoroughly allegations of human rights abuses raised by Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and clarified that it does not employ illegal immigrants. 

In a statement, it said a special taskforce was assembled and chaired by Group President/Chief Executive Officer Datuk Mohd Emir Mavani Abdullah to investigate the allegations and reiterated that all its workers were employed in full compliance of all regulations and laws. 

“The taskforce include our Plantation Sustainability and Quality Management Department (PSQM), Estate Management Team, Human Resources Department, and the Group President’s Office, all of whom went on-ground to the areas named in the report to interview palm oil workers and discover the truth behind the allegations,” he added. 

Referring to the case of an illegal immigrant named Mohamed Rubel who was said to be working at its plantation in Jempol, Negeri Sembilan, FGV said the alleged location, which is Palong 21 estate, did not employ labour contractors. 

This means that all workers on the plantation are directly employed by FGV and there are 167 foreign workers, of which 34 are Bangladeshis. 
WSJ had alleged that contractors did not pay him since December 2014, that he was living in a hut in a forest far from stores and was spraying insecticide without training. 

Following checks of employment records and all relevant documentation, FGV was unable to locate Mohamed Rubel that was quoted, recorded and photographed by WSJ on its plantation or anywhere in its records. 

The findings by the taskforce, with the help of other workers from Bangladesh on FGV Palong 21 estate, determined Mohamed Rubel to be an illegal Bangladeshi who visited them in the afternoon or after working hours. 

FGV also said Palong 21 estate is within 10km of a petrol station, mosque, clinic and grocery stores while workers’ quarters are equipped with electricity and treated water supplies, complete with toilets, kitchens, gas stoves, wardrobes, beds and laundry areas. 

The estate too has a complete record of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) distribution and a log book which records workers’ safety training. 

On the allegation that FGV did not compensate its workers for workplace injuries, and provided minimal medical aid, FGV’s investigations have determined that both workers cited by WSJ – Al Amin and Malek Mia – had their medical treatment borne entirely at FGV’s expense. 

Al Amin also received an average wage of RM900 per month for the four months he was recovering while Malek received full treatment at an eye specialist in Kuala Pilah for the accident that occurred at work. 

FGV also covered transportation costs of medical visits and reiterated its policy of providing medical aid to all workers as well as compensation for injuries sustained over the course of carrying out their duties. 

On WSJ’s allegation based on information from a person named Muhi that passports were taken from workers and policemen were brought to threaten workers with prison time, FGV said it had not been able to locate this person in any of its records and appointed contractors. 

“This is part of the reason why we sought WSJ’s aid in our investigations as we could not determine if these claims are true. “However, passports are kept at the estate’s office for safekeeping. They are not forcibly removed from workers nor held ransom,” FGV said. 

FGV reiterated that it would not tolerate any mistreatment of its workers and provide avenues for them to channel their grievances without fear of repercussions, in line with the group’s whistle blowing policy. 

FGV said it also found that the WSJ writer has trespassed into Palong 21 estate, which is a private property. “He gathered the Bangladeshi workers at their quarters claiming that he would like to help if they were not compensated for injuries sustained on the job. 

“He did not at any time identify himself as a WSJ reporter nor showed any credentials or identification. He interviewed two workers Al-Amin and Malek Miah which lasted less than five minutes,” said FGV. 

FGV has agreed for the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to appoint an independent auditor to assess the claims reported by WSJ and its internal findings and have started the process to engage an independent third party to conduct their own investigation into these allegations. 

The group has taken proactive steps to enhance awareness amongst the foreign workers on their rights and welfare through block meetings and should any breaches in compliance and governance be identified, they will be rectified immediately. FGV is fully committed to address any allegations and pledge to open and transparent communications with all stakeholders.