Some of the problems appeared to be systemic, occurring on numerous plantations, which stretch across wide swaths of the country, she said.
"Importers should know that there are reputational, financial and legal risks associated with importing goods made by forced labour into the United States, Hinojosa said in a telephone press briefing.
The order was announced just three months after the federal government slapped the same ban on another Malaysian palm oil giant, FGV Holdings Berhad -- the first palm oil company ever targeted by Customs over concerns about forced labour.
The US imported USD 410 million of crude palm oil from Malaysia in fiscal year 2020, representing a third of the total value shipped in.
The bans, triggered by petitions filed by non-profit groups and a law firm, came in the wake of an in-depth investigation by The Associated Press into labour abuses on plantations in Malaysia and neighbouring Indonesia, which together produce about 85 per cent of the USD 65 billion supply of the world's most consumed vegetable oil.
Palm oil can be found in roughly half the products on supermarket shelves and in most cosmetic brands. It's in paints, plywood, pesticides, animal feed, biofuels and even hand sanitizer.
The AP interviewed more than 130 current and former workers from two dozen palm oil companies, including Sime Darby, for its investigation. Reporters found everything from rape and child labour to trafficking and outright slavery on plantations in both countries.
Earlier this month, 25 Democratic lawmakers from the US House Ways and Means Committee cited AP's investigation in a letter calling for the government to come down harder on the palm oil industry in Malaysia and Indonesia, asking Customs and Border Protection if it had considered a blanket ban on imports from those countries.
"In our view, these odious labor practices and their pervasive impact across supply chains highlight the need for an aggressive and effective enforcement strategy, the letter said.
Sime Darby, which did not immediately comment, has palm oil plantations covering nearly 1.5 million acres, making it one of Malaysia's largest producers.
It supplies to some of the biggest names in the business, from Cargill to Nestle, Unilever and L'real, according to the companies' most recently published supplier and palm oil mill lists.
Hinojosa said the agency's decision to issue the ban should send an unambiguous message to the trade community.
Consumers have a right to know where the palm oil is coming from and the conditions under which that palm oil is produced and what products that particular palm oil is going into, she said.
Meanwhile, Duncan Jepson of the anti-trafficking group Liberty Shared, which submitted the petition leading to the Sime Darby ban, filed two additional complaints on Wednesday one to the UK's Home Office, questioning the company's disclosure about its protection of human rights under the country's Modern Slavery Act, and the other to the Malaysian stock exchange, regarding the company's stated commitments to sustainability.
Both complaints questioned the accuracy of Sime Darby's disclosures in light of the CPB's findings.
Jepson said the US ban also should be a red flag for Asian and Western financial institutions that have helped support the industry, saying ties to forced labour could have serious consequences for banks and lenders.
The US government's announcement about Sime Darby marked the 14th time this year Customs has issued an order to detain shipments from an array of sectors following similar investigations into forced labor. They include seafood and cotton, along with human hair pieces believed to have been made by persecuted Uighur Muslims in Chinese labor camps.
Under Wednesday's order, palm oil products or derivatives traceable to Sime Darby will be detained at US ports. Shipments can be exported if the company is unable to prove that the goods were not produced with forced labour.
(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
Business Standard has always strived hard to provide up-to-date information and commentary on developments that are of interest to you and have wider political and economic implications for the country and the world. Your encouragement and constant feedback on how to improve our offering have only made our resolve and commitment to these ideals stronger. Even during these difficult times arising out of Covid-19, we continue to remain committed to keeping you informed and updated with credible news, authoritative views and incisive commentary on topical issues of relevance.
We, however, have a request.
As we battle the economic impact of the pandemic, we need your support even more, so that we can continue to offer you more quality content. Our subscription model has seen an encouraging response from many of you, who have subscribed to our online content. More subscription to our online content can only help us achieve the goals of offering you even better and more relevant content. We believe in free, fair and credible journalism. Your support through more subscriptions can help us practise the journalism to which we are committed.
Support quality journalism and subscribe to Business Standard.