TFT supports palm oil company, Ladang Rakyat Terengganu, become first company in the state to return passports to its migrant workers

The heavy monsoon rains at a palm estate in Lembah Bidong, Setiu couldn’t dampen the unmistakeable hopeful mood and spirit of those who were present for the special occasion. Against the backdrop of the plantation on October 11th. 50 Indonesian workers who represented their co-workers witnessed a milestone carried out by their employer, Ladang Rakyat Terengganu (LRT) Sdn. Bhd. LRT is a brown field plantation in the east coast state of Terengganu in Malaysia. They marked that wet morning with another effort by the industry in respecting workers’ rights – by returning 160 passports to their Indonesian workers. LRT is the first company in Terengganu to return passports to its migrant workers.

LRT is a third party supplier to Cargill, one of TFT’s members. Since 2015, discussions between TFT and LRT have taken place on implementing good practices for tackling deforestation. This collaboration was further cemented when LRT was invited to TFT’s Pioneer’s Forum in March of this year where the issue of passport retention was highlighted. Shahrizal Ridzuan bin Ambak, Sustainability Officer of LRT, explained that the company’s journey in returning their workers’ passports started with this awareness gained from the Pioneer’s Forum.

Together with his fellow estate manager at Lembah Bidong, they learnt of another palm oil plantation in Johor, Kim Loong Palm Oil Mill, which had returned passports to their migrant workers. Subsequent workshops he attended organised by TFT members, Wilmar and Bunge, also repeatedly discussed the issue. This was followed by a Broad Level Engagement session he participated in during which he learnt more of current global market standards pertaining to sustainability programmes.

Shahrizal also credited two videos produced by TFT, ‘Putting Passports in their Palms’ and ‘A Story of Values, Change and Hope’, which facilitated discussions with his management team on NDPE policies, and culminated in the decision with his Chief Executive officer to return their migrant workers’ passports. TFT’s Tools for Transformation was also instrumental in getting LRT to perform the step-by-step mechanistic and legalistic process for the passport return initiative.

A worker signs his passport release form.

Shahrizal attributed LRT’s low abscondment rate of less than 10 percent for the last 2 years as testament to the company’s continuous commitment to respect their workers’ welfare. “As a medium-sized entity, LRT is committed to respecting our workers’ welfare and we hope that we can inspire other plantations to do the same.” He made his remarks at the event which was attended by representatives from Ladang Rakyat Terengganu, Bunge-Loders Crocklaan, Wilmar, Cargill, TFT, Department of Labour Terengganu and Immigration officers.

LRT has a total of 6 palm oil estates in Terengganu, and the ceremony held on October 11th kick-starts its passport return initiative, beginning with its Lembah Bidong estate. There are 160 Indonesian workers in this estate – the only one with Indonesian workers in entirety. LRT’s remaining 5 estates deploy Bangladeshi workers as well as Indonesian workers and the whole passport return exercise is expected to be completed by December 2018 affecting approximately 1,200 workers.

Workers and guests at the passport return ceremony.

For 43-year-old worker, Sunardi, he can now move freely without feeling scared of losing his document. “I have worked here for 5 years, and I can have peace of mind knowing that my passport is safe in the locker.” Another worker, Mohd Zulkarnain, said that the passport return initiative made him more motivated to work. “LRT provides us good infrastructure at our living quarters and they don’t discriminate against their foreign workers. I’m happy that we can keep our passports.”