International labour standards

Malaysian rubber industry's progress in addressing forced labour paves the way for broader ESG Initiatives, says ILO

International Labour Organization (ILO) urges the Malaysian rubber industry to implement international labour standards to build a more competitive and inclusive future and respond effectively to the challenges posed by environmental, social, and governance (ESG) regulations.

Press release | Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia | 17 January 2024
Latex gloves – one of many products manufactured from Malaysian rubber. © Shutterstock
KUALA LUMPUR (ILO News) - The positive steps taken by the Malaysian rubber industry to address forced labour and recruitment challenges in recent years should be sustained and matched by similar efforts to implement other labour standards, contained in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) regulations, according to an International Labour Organization (ILO) senior official.

Speaking at the Malaysian Rubber Council (MRC) conference ‘Navigating ESG for A Resilient Future of Malaysia’s Rubber Industry’ in Kuala Lumpur, Dan Rees, Director of the ILO Priority Action Programme on Supply Chains said, “The ILO recognizes the action taken by the industry in recent years, particularly to address the causes of forced labour and to ensure remedy for workers who were victims of poor business practices on recruitment fees.”

“While continued action on forced labour and recruitment remains important, there are a wide range of environmental, social and governance issues that demand increased attention from the rubber sector. These are reflected in existing and forthcoming ESG regulations in a growing number of countries that are key markets for the rubber industry.”

Rees stressed the fundamental importance of these issues to Malaysia.

“The ESG issues facing the rubber industry are not unique to the sector. Experience shows that addressing them robustly will support your mission of building a more competitive, resilient and inclusive rubber industry for the lasting benefit of all stakeholders within it.”

He also recognized the challenges faced by industry to keep track of seemingly complex and ever evolving ESG regulations.

“ESG regulations may appear overwhelming and onerous for employers to address. But if you look closely at the social dimension of these regulations, they all share common principles and they all refer to international labour standards that already exist in national and international law. Taking ownership for the transparent realization of these standards in your sector is the essence of the issue.”

“ILO stands ready to support its Member States as well as employers’ and workers’ organisztions to understand and implement these standards in any way that we can.”

The Malaysian Rubber Council’s ESG Conference 2023 (17-18 January 2024) brings together stakeholders to facilitate understanding and discussion of critical issues related to emerging sustainability regulations, social compliance and environmental considerations within the rubber industry.

Rees recognized the vital role employers’ organizations such as MRC play in helping members understand and implement ESG standards as well as the need for workers’ organizations to be fully involved in the process. He also stressed the important role of government.

“Governments bear the duty to protect human rights – including in business operations – through a smart mix of regulatory and non-regulatory measures and to support the creation of an enabling environment that encourages and supports business to act responsibly.”

“Smart, effective regulation of the labour market that is also responsive to the needs of employers and workers, enables a level playing field for responsible business conduct. Business needs this as a precondition to compete responsibly and for the good business practice to drive out the bad,” he added.

ILO is working with the Malaysian government, employers and workers to support the rubber glove sector through its Supply Chains for a Sustainable Future of Work (SCSFW) project funded by the European Union. The project focuses on employment and productivity, social dialogue, occupational safety and health, forced labour, and labour inspection and strategic compliance.

“ILO is proud of its cooperation with the Malaysian rubber glove industry and remains fully committed to supporting your work to achieve decent work in sustainable enterprises,” Rees concluded.