When drawing up its Human Rights Charter in FY2016, Sime Darby Bhd incorporated the Protect, Respect and Remedy framework outlined by the UN Human Rights Council.

Sime Darby Plantations Bhd (SDP) adopted Sime Darby’s Human Rights Charter to guide its continuing human rights journey after it demerged from the latter. As the listing only happened on Nov 30 last year, The Edge BRC judges reckoned both companies should be joint winners in this year’s CR awards, given how close their scores were.

“As an employer of a significant number of foreign workers, the group is in a position to create a positive impact on the treatment of migrant labour. Our belief in respecting human rights extends to empowering local communities in areas where we operate and underlines our commitment to greater social equity, in line with the United Nations Guiding Principles (UNGP) on Business and Human Rights,” SDP said in its latest annual report.

Of its 97,223 employees, more than 80% work in its fields, mills and refineries across the globe. In Malaysia, at least 63% of its workers are migrant labourers, predominantly from Indonesia, India, Bangladesh and Nepal.

By working with Shift, an independent, non-profit centre for business and human rights practice, SDP has identified human rights issues that came with employing migrant labour and worked towards preventing exploitation. The issues included labourers incurring high debts from unreasonable recruitment costs, accepting work offers with incomplete information and being marginalised through the unlawful withholding of important documents.

Over 1,500 workers were provided with a safe and secure platform to hold their own passports, a programme which has since been rolled out to SDP’s 125 estates and 33 mills in Malaysia. The company also worked with its partners in their

recruitment efforts, emphasising that SDP does not impose a recruitment fee on potential employees. “We are aware of key areas in which human rights issues are most pertinent within our operations, and are implementing action plans to manage these. We understand that certain risks are systemic in nature and require collaborative action. We have therefore focused much effort this financial year on stakeholder engagement to tackle some of the challenges we face in the geographical landscapes we operate in,” SDP said.

As the world’s largest producer of certified sustainable palm oil, SDP knows it plays a leading role in the development and promotion of sustainable practices in the oil palm sector. It is a founding member of the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and works closely with its partners to deliver on its sustainable future goals, including a commitment towards responsible consumption and production.

Prior to the demerger or what they call “the pure-play exercise”, Sime Darby sustainability matters were mainly focused on the plantation business. With its new focus on the heavy equipment and automotive trading segments, Sime Darby has engaged experts with the aim of identifying five key sustainability matters that are most material to the group and will proceed to develop plans and initiatives to facilitate measurement of its progress and report its performance in those areas.

If what SDP did in the plantation sector is any indication, the sustainable initiatives would be welcomed by stakeholders and the communities they are in.