WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Labor today announced the award of a $5 million cooperative agreement to Social Accountability International to prevent and reduce forced labor and child labor abuses in the Malaysian palm oil and garment industries.

Administered by the Bureau of International Labor Affairs, the funding will support a project working with trade unions, civil organizations, migrant worker community leaders, government labor inspectors and recruitment agencies to raise awareness of the root causes of forced labor and child labor abuses in these industries in Malaysia. The project will also aim to prevent, identify and redress abusive practices.

The world’s second largest palm oil producer, Malaysia exports much of its palm oil for use in consumer products, ranging from cookies and crackers to soap and laundry detergent. The output comes at a high cost at some plantations that force adults into debt bondage and children to work illegally. At others, workers suffer exposure to toxic chemicals during production.

In the country’s garment sector, migrant workers sometimes face abusive labor conditions and fall prey to deceptive recruiters who trap workers in debt bondage, make improper wage deductions or provide unsafe or inadequate living conditions.

Social Accountability International’s project aims to:

Help workers gain information and communicate about working conditions, and increase their ability to advocate for their rights.
Mobilize civil society organizations to work cooperatively with workers to address forced labor and child labor abuses.
Create tools to improve companies’ compliance with labor standards in their business operations.
Increase workers’ participation in companies’ systems for compliance and managing complaints.
Provide legal aid and other support services to individuals exploited for forced labor or child labor.
Share best practices developed by the project with businesses throughout the palm oil and garment supply chains.

This cooperative agreement is part of ILAB’s continued work to reduce and prevent forced labor and child labor abuses in the world’s supply chains. Labor violations such as those in Malaysia’s palm oil and garment industries are included in ILAB’s global list of goods produced with child labor or forced labor. 

Learn more about the department’s international work.


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