The private sector is best placed, and in many cases expected, to take the lead in ensuring that labour issues in the supply chains are understood, investigated and addressed, Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) said.
The council said one of the most pressing questions for larger companies had been the unethical recruitment and treatment of workers within their supplier networks.
"It has for several years been difficult for Malaysian companies to have full visibility on workers throughout the sometimes hundreds of companies that they source from. This is a natural difficulty with such a complex and geographically-spread supply chain.
"With that said, customers and trading partners - such as the US Customs & Border Protection Agency (CBP) - have made clear that governments and companies must take responsibility throughout the entire supply chain. Last week, we were reminded that the Malaysian business community still has work to do," it said in a statement.
MPOC said the US CBP had issued a Withhold Release Order against Malaysian disposable glove maker Brightway Holdings Sdn Bhd, indicating it found forced labor in the company's operations in violation of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) principles.
In the wake of this action, it was reported that some of Brightway's most significant customers had halted orders with the company.
Contracts with the multinational giant Kimberly Clark, and Ansell – a major supplier to the UK's National Health Service were reportedly among those at risk.
MPOC said these developments, happening so quickly after the move by the CBP, illustrated both the global reach and power of those looking to stamp out forced labour practices, and the interconnectedness of global supply chains.
"This is an opportunity for the palm oil sector to show leadership – and communicate that change is underway. Regardless of other efforts that may or may not be undertaken in Malaysia, the private sector palm oil companies are pushing ahead.
"Individual companies, as well as supporting the Malaysian Palm Oil Association Responsible Employment Charter, are pursuing their own reforms and steps forward," it added.