The journey of a migrant worker from leaving their home to eventually reaching the shores of Malaysia can be an arduous one. But for many, the promise of better income to support their families is too difficult to ignore. In fact, industries in Malaysia rely heavily on migrant workers, and the palm oil industry employs 77 percent of migrant workers nationwide.
With workers from various nationalities coming to work in plantations, refineries and mills across the country, this industry has the potential to bring positive impact by way of implementing ethical recruitment policies for migrant workers. But how can a business identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how it addresses adverse human rights impacts?
To provide a platform for the sharing of practical solutions and good company practices on this topic, the Ethical Recruitment Multi-Stakeholder Forum was held in Kuala Lumpur on June 26, 2019. The first forum of its kind for the regional palm oil industry, it was organised by Earthworm Foundation (EF) in collaboration with EF members and partners, namely International Organisation for Migration (IOM), Cargill, Fuji, Reckitt Benckiser, Nestlé and Bunge Loders Croklaan.
120 participants comprising business, government and recruitment agencies, as well as civil society and non-profit organisations, attended the forum. Moreover, palm oil representatives in attendance comprised small, medium and large companies that currently employ approximately 86,365 migrant workers collectively. Hence, ‘ethical recruitment’ is more than a buzzword – it is a major subject relating to labour conditions that transcends countries, governments and industries with extremely complex challenges.
The forum highlighted the importance of human rights-based due diligence as an ongoing risk management process for palm oil operations and supply chain actors. The forum also raised awareness among stakeholders concerning government updates on legal and policy changes for ethical recruitment, international standards and market requirements, and national laws and policies.
Speakers and panellists from diverse backgrounds took the floor to elucidate the ways companies can better navigate these matters. They were from the Ministry of Human Resources, IOM, International Labour Organisation, Cargill, IOI Group, Sime Darby Plantation, Nestlé, UKM (National University of Malaysia) and Earthworm Foundation.
Reading a speech from the Minister of Human Resources, M. Kulasegaran, Special Functions Officer to the Minister, Kunaseelan Nadarajah, stressed that the Department of Labour has amended the Private Employment Agencies Act 1981 which has come into force since February 2018. With the amendment to the Act, the Ministry expects that there will be professionalism in the recruitment of both local and migrant workers and that there will be better transparency in the recruitment process by agents.
“The collaboration (of the Ministry) with the palm oil industry is high, and the Ministry has met major industry players to see how we can manage arising issues. On the whole, it’s moving forward,” he said.
The panel discussion also brought ethical recruitment challenges to the surface and the value of committing to this responsible process through a robust discussion between Cargill, IOI Corporation, Sime Darby Plantation and Nestlé representatives. They also reiterated on transparency, the need to support development of tools for better recruitment processes, more industry engagement and collaboration to better tailor strategies between different agencies and sectors. The tangible benefits for companies in implementing recruitment practices was also a key point made by all panellists.
The forum indicated a clear demand for ethical recruitment among the different participants. In fact, the Ministry’s expectation is that all registered private employment agencies will come up with a Code of Conduct for ethical recruitment to guide all them in realising the ethical recruitment agenda envisaged by the government. EF is developing a Human Rights-Based Due Diligence Tool, which will assist companies and their suppliers on their journey to meet international standards for ethical recruitment. This initiative will also assist suppliers increase transparency, establish values and transform their practices.