A report in the Wall Street Journal fingered Malaysian grower Felda for a series of migrant worker abuses on Malaysian plantations — with explosive charges from workers of human trafficking. “They buy and sell us like cattle,” a Bangladeshi worker was quoted in the report. The Rainforest Action Network is using the report to highlight its branding of “Conflict Palm Oil” — a meme taken from the discredited international trade in “Conflict Diamonds” — and is highlighting a Scorecard which relates back some of these charges to Felda customers such as Cargill, Procter & Gamble, Nestle, Hershey’s and Kelloggs.
The underlying Jounral report reflects the growing migrant train — especially “Bangladeshis and stateless Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar,” highlighting that as many as 50,000 people have “boarded boats for the perilous journey to Malaysia in the past two years,” with many perishing in the journey. The US Labor Departyment had been highlting instances of “forced labor” amongst the Malaysian Plantation — the US had ranked Malaysia #3 in the world in its “Trafficking in Persons” report, though sources indicate that the problems were most acute in the fishing industrym, as opposed to oil plam plantations.
Despite the Journal report, conditions appear to be improving in Malaysia, based on the US Government’s decision this week to upgrade Malaysia to the Tier 2 Watch List in the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, which was released this morning. Critics are lobbing charges at the Obama Administration that it is, in fact, pushing its Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive free trade zone and on in which Tier 3 countries cannot participate. To provide ammunition to the critics, Thailand did not have its status upgraded this week, and is not participting in the trade partnership. Thailand was tossed into the lowest tier last year at the same time as Malaysia.