Since 2018, Nestlé and Earthworm Foundation have been working together to improve the promotion of human rights in the Malaysian pulp and paper sector, particularly in fair labour and ethical recruitment.
Nestlé's responsible sourcing work concentrates primarily on packaging, with the greater goal of moving beyond managing risks in their supply chain to positively impacting the broader sourcing landscapes. As Malaysia is both an important source of packaging for Nestlé and a high-priority area for human rights, where forced labour and recruitment issues, unfortunately, remain prevalent, Nestlé focuses on these supply chains to better understand and address them.
In 2021, Earthworm and Nestlé held a training for about a dozen of Nestlé's pulp and paper suppliers. After this training, Earthworm's field team in Malaysia followed up with three prioritised suppliers to review the learnings from the training and understand their progress. Learning from these engagements fed into 2022 plans to deep dive with a prioritised supplier.
"Given the backdrop of high-priority human rights issues in Malaysia, a due diligence process that complements our current Tier 1 SEDEX approach to understand better the risks in our supply chain was needed", said Michele Zollinger, Global Sustainable Sourcing for Pulp and Paper & Climate Forest Lead at Nestlé.
The workshops and assessments conducted have helped us to focus on this particular risk – ethical recruitment – with our suppliers and take steps to improve practices allowing us to meet our human rights commitments," Zollinger adds.
In 2022, Earthworm's field team selected a packaging converter from GSPP (GS Paperboard and Packaging), a key supplier to Nestlé, to understand the converter's recruitment practices and mitigate any risks.
Over 2022 and 2023, there were three visits to GSPP's packaging plant in Banting, including an initial assessment during which interviews were conducted with management and workers. Documents were also reviewed during these visits.
The aim was to understand the potential risk of exploitation faced by the workers, including practices used by the recruitment agents, costs GSPP covers in recruitment, and recruitment fees workers have paid.
During the visits, it was found that GSPP did already have some good practices in place, including providing post-arrival orientation for newly arrived workers, as well as free bedding, kitchen amenities and PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). Another was introducing a policy on "zero cost recruitment" for new workers, in addition to reimbursing recruitment fees for workers from Nepal. They also conducted post-arrival interviews with newly arrived workers to identify and address any issues in the recruitment process.
Priority action items identified during these visits were to ensure all migrant workers were holding their own passports, establish guidelines on selecting and conducting due diligence on recruitment agents, and enhance the grievance processes for workers to understand better how they can raise grievances. Other action items were for GSPP to consider developing a dedicated, ethical recruitment policy and a post-arrival orientation handbook translated into workers' native languages.
GSPP took on all the changes recommended to them, including reimbursing recruitment fees for workers from Myanmar. They also conducted post-arrival interviews with newly arrived workers to identify and address any issues in the recruitment process. The company's diligence in improving its recruitment practices was very much appreciated.
“With regards to reimbursing recruitment fees, in particular, I think this was a great initiative that showed their commitment to improving their practices and working conditions," said Earthworm's Atia Hanna, Project Lead for Ethical Recruitment.
"Efforts like this are reflected as well in that several of the migrant workers there have either been there for several years or are returning workers, which indicates they believe that GSPP is a good place to work," she said.
Regarding Earthworm's recommendation on passports, while the company had returned passports before this, all the workers' passports were kept in a centralised locker. Now, GSPP has allowed workers to hold their passports individually, which workers were very happy about.
They also now have an e-grievance system, which has an option for anonymous submissions. It used to be a physical complaint box, but now you scan a QR code, and it goes to a form, which is in three languages – Nepali, Burmese and English.
Mitzvah Mohamed Tajudin, Senior General Manager of Human Capital at GSPP, remarked, “Working with Earthworm Foundation and Nestlé has been a valuable experience. While we have always strived for quality in both our products and practices, this process has shown that there is always more that we can do, has helped to raise the bar on our standards, and hopefully improved morale amongst our workforce.”
All-in-all, GSPP's progress was encouraging and showed a willingness to improve practices beyond the minimum standard. I’m hopeful that by seeing the changes GSPP has been able to implement, this can inspire others in the industry to follow suit, Atia said.