KUALA LUMPUR, June 8 — Malaysian producers should take note of the US Customs and Border Protection's announced methods for its forced labour investigations to avoid being subject to further sanctions, said the plantation industries and commodities minister

While Datuk Zuraida Kamaruddin said her ministry viewed the manner of US agency’s investigations to be “unfair and also biased”, she acknowledged it was the CBP’s prerogative to rely on remote or third-party information.

The minister urged the Malaysian firms to be mindful of this following the CBP’s clarification and to avoid attracting another Withhold Release Orders (WROs or import bans), six of which have been levied over forced labour allegations in recent months.

"The modus operandi of the CBP and how their verdict is passed has been made clear, the onus is on industry players — especially those in the labour-intensive rubber gloves and plantation sectors," she said in the statement.

"As much as we cannot totally agree with its reliance on remote or third-party evidence in its investigation process, we have to accept that at the end of the day, the enforcement agency is vested with the prerogative to act based on what it deems as proprietary information.”

According to the US CBP website, the investigations have already prevented a total of eight Malaysian companies — two inactive and six active companies — from the plantation and glove sectors from entering the US market after being issued with WROs.

The two with classed as inactive were Top Glove Corp Bhd and WRP Asia Pacific Sdn Bhd, while the other six are FGV Holdings Bhd, Sime Darby Plantation Bhd, Maxter Glove Manufacturing Sdn Bhd and Supermax Glove Manufacturing, Smart Glove, Brightway Holdings Sdn Bhd and YTY Industry Holdings Sdn Bhd.

Zuraida also suggested that Malaysian palm oil and palm oil-related products were being targeted due to being direct competitors with those derived from soybean oil, of which the US is the world's leading producer and the second-leading exporter.

In the same statement, Zuraida also commended the Malaysian Rubber Gloves Manufacturers Association (MARGMA) for its cooperation with the CBP to develop a better understanding of labour issues.

MARGMA advocated a zero-debt policy and has been working to dislodge itself from the stigma of forced labour by following the International Labour Organization's 11 indicators as the guiding principle.

The 11 principles are: abuse of vulnerability, deception, restriction of movement, isolation, physical and sexual violence, intimidation and threats, retention of identity documents, withholding of wages, debt bondage, abusive working and living conditions, and excessive overtime.

Previously, the US CBP was criticised for nitpicking on large plantations and glove manufacturers in Malaysia, but denied this and insisted that investigates any forced labour allegations in which credible evidence was available.