Thursday, May 25, 2006

Malaysia's Most Caring Employer Award
Cannot Be A Plantation Firm

On 13/5/2006, the National Level Labour Day Celebration was held , organized by the Human Resource Ministry. In this event, Golden Hope Plantations was awarded the MOST CARING EMPLOYER AWARD! I must say, they have a very effective corporate communications department, one that dishes out tons of information via their annual reports and website. Check out their website at
www.goldenhope.com.my and you will find a darn good website for financials and other news and activities that make them a better corporate citizen. You can do one thousand and one things but if the bulk of your employees are not treated well - you do not deserve the "most caring employer" award.

It matters little if you have a zero burning rate policy (some plantations, especially in Indonesia will burn before replanting thus causing massive pollution) .... it matters little if you have good transparency in revealing financials and in corporate governance ... those are not traits of a "great and caring employer". Those are traits of a company with good corporate governance and a high level of social reponsibility.

Let's look at the employees of Golden Hope (or any plantation firms for that matter). What kind of government would give such an award to a company that has breed poverty among plantation workers over 4 generations! The guaranteed monthly wage is RM325- RM350 per month (US$90-US$98), and even if you were to double that with other incentives and performance related pay, it is still way below the poverty line. Many of our plantation companies make hundreds of million a year - all at the expense of these toiling workers. Sure, they get accomodation, but have you look at the quality of accomodation provided. I thought a "caring employer" would look into the total welfare of an employee, and not be part of a plantation co-op that pay workers pittance compared to company's earnings. There are many ongoing struggles by plantation workers under this company such as Semenyih & Bangi Estate in Ulu Langat, Sogamana and Kinta Kelas estates in Perak and Victoria Estate in Kedah - who are fighting for alternative housing and fair compensation due to eviction. Are we still back in the colonial days, ripping off the locals? Shouldn't there be a minimum wage, like McDonald's, if one is so caring?

The following things / issues are still lacking for many plantation workers: 24-hour water and electricity supply; proper medical care and education for their kids; decent living conditions; a fair living monthly wage; an annual increase; an annual bonus and retirement benefits. Plantation firms will argue that they needed to compete, .... well... so does everybody, but you don't see oil and gas workers getting RM500 per month, do you!!!? Plantation firms are not making tiny margins mind you. For the financial years of 2004 to the projected 2008, Golden Hope's EBITDA margin ranges between 14%-18%, and that's basically the same story for all plantation firms.

Companies have evolved, but these practices at most plantation firms have got to go. How we treat one another, is a reflection on our humanity, personal integrity, fairness and moral values. To be able to blend in profitability, capitalism, social responsibility with an ethos of compassion and generosity of spirit is what every decent company should vie for. We cannot sit idly by and complain that "that's the way things have been done in the past" or "we need to be competitive" as excuses to treat our fellow man poorly.

Certainly none of our plantation firms deserve to be even short-listed for Most Caring Employer awards. People in responsible positions who can do something about this pseudo-slavery situation should take note.

1 comment:

Rohan_888 said...

Yes, it is appalling.

I remember the case of a rubber plantation worker, highlighted in Malaysiakini. Due to the weather he could only work a few days in a certain month, but his contract entitled him to a minimum number of days of salary per month, more than his boss would pay. The worker sued his boss and he did win the courtcase, but the whole affair took about 20 years and the worker had passed away already long time before the final judgement ........