IOM, Earthworm Foundation to Study Journeys of Migrant Workers in Malaysia’s Palm Oil Industry

Some 80 percent of Malaysia’s nearly half a million oil palm workers are migrants, mainly from Indonesia, Bangladesh and Nepal. Photo: Earthworm Foundation

Kuala Lumpur – Malaysia produces 39 per cent of the world’s palm oil and 44 per cent of world exports, according to the Malaysian Palm Oil Council, an industry body.  The sector now occupies over 70 per cent of the country’s agricultural land and employs almost half a million workers, of whom around 80 per cent are migrants, mainly from Indonesia, Nepal and Bangladesh.

But despite their contribution to one of Malaysia’s most important sectors, migrant workers in the country may be at risk of human rights abuses and exploitation due to poor international recruitment practices. Debt bondage, retention of passports and a lack of grievance mechanisms are some of the ways that unscrupulous recruiters, agents and middlemen can seek to profit from vulnerable migrant workers.

Companies that buy palm oil from Malaysian suppliers are often unaware of hiring practices throughout the supply chain. But recognizing that most Malaysian companies depend largely on intermediaries to engage foreign workers, the Malaysian Government has now initiated a review of current legislation to move towards more safe, orderly and regular migration into the country.

In line with these efforts and to better understand the risks, raise awareness and design solutions for the industry, recruiters and workers, IOM and the Earthworm Foundation will launch a one-year joint labour supply chain mapping project in April 2019. This will include consultations with various stakeholders, assessments with employers and recruiters, and interviews with migrant workers.

The project will involve collaboration with selected Earthworm Foundation member companies and related suppliers. It will examine deception in recruitment, recruitment fees and related costs to map out the recruitment process from the target countries of origin to Malaysia.

The findings will help companies to implement ethical recruitment practices and due diligence among business partners in operations and supply chains. The results are expected to add value to all stakeholders in the palm oil industry, support constructive policy dialogue, and feed into the development of practical tools and resources that can be used by businesses.

IOM is partnering with Earthworm Foundation through its Corporate Responsibility in Eliminating Slavery and Trafficking (CREST) initiative, working directly with the private sector and the recruitment industry on addressing the vulnerabilities of migrant workers and eliminate slavery and trafficking from business operations and supply chains. CREST is supported by the Regional Development Cooperation Section of the Embassy of Sweden in Thailand and the IOM Development Fund.


For more information please contact:
Nguyen Thi Minh Hien at IOM Ho Chi Minh City, Email:, Tel: +84 964 753 936 or go to the CREST website at

Mark Sanderson, Earthworm Foundation, Email:, Tel: +44 (0) 2380 11 1220