The Malaysian palm oil industry has remarkable accomplishments for which to be proud. Poverty reduced by 90 per cent since 1960 (when the national poverty rate was almost 50 per cent); more than 570,000 people directly employed; 5 million hectares cultivated, with more than 56 per cent of Malaysia’s land under conservation. This accomplishments have benefited the state, but it is the producers and workers in the industry that are truly reaping the rewards. Even the environment benefits as the industry and revenues contribute directly to conservation and research into Malaysia’s remarkable biodiversity.
But amid these accomplishments, criticism of our industry continues unabated. For instance, a recent report by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting focused on children of migrant workers and obstacles to their education in Sabah. But unacknowledged in the report is the central and cooperative role played by Malaysia’s and Sabah’s Ministry of Education and plantation companies in ensuring these children are provided for. For instance, the Education Ministries and plantation companies directly support more than 121 “learning centers” throughout Sabah in demonstration of their commitment to education and their employees.
Much of the criticism against our industry is misplaced, reflecting the dual challenges of a globalized economy and porous borders experienced both in Malaysia, and in the United States and Europe. But in the face of these challenges, our industry is pushing forward to redefine what it means to be socially and ethically responsible. And our industry is not just doing that for Malaysians, but for anyone who wishes for a better life.