Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Modern-day slavery rife in Malaysia’s electronics industry? - trapped in debt bondage and have their passports illegally withheld?

'Modern Day Slavery' - very strong words used by the Guardian but it is time for the Malaysian government to wake up and do something...

'...although it is illegal under Malaysian law, more than 90% of workers had their passports taken by managers at their place of work or by recruitment agents,Modern-day slavery rife in Malaysia’s electronics industry...'
Well, the biggest problem is the access to justice - when workers complain, they are 'terminated' - and for migrant workers, this means also the cancellation of their visa/pass that allows them to remain legally in Malaysia - they have to leave the country or they become 'illegal' and risk arrest, conviction, whipping and prison... So, leave Malaysia they must despite the fact that they may have pending complaints or even hearings at the relevant departments/courts where they are claiming justice against violators of rights, be they employers, agents or others. So, it becomes easy(or safe) to exploit...cheat...abuse...violate migrant workers in Malaysia because it is near impossible for migrants to effectively be able to use the channels for access to justice in Malaysia. [All complaints, cases, hearings, proceedings in front of labour tribunals/departments just come to an end when the complainant fails to be perpetrators escape 'scot free']
Compounded with this is the inability of migrant workers to be able 'liberate' themselves from an oppressive and/or exploitative employer. Migrant workers in Malaysia do not have the RIGHT to change, the choice is work under this oppressive employer or leave Malaysia-- employers know this and some takes advantage of this by cheating and exploiting migrant workers... [In a case, that I did, the court did come to the conclusion that a visa/pass is personal(or belongs) to the migrant worker, who may apply for variations of the conditions and the immigration department can vary these conditions - i.e. change the employer, etc...] Migrant workers, just like any other worker, must have the freedom to escape exploitation and change employers... 
Trapped in a situation where they have no real choice but to work under a cheating and exploitative employer is very wrong .... and Malaysia's silence and/or failure to act is unacceptable...

The keeping of passports by employers/agents, etc - is another way of 'imprisoning' or 'trapping' migrant workers. Without your papers, migrants can easily be arrested, detained, charged, convicted, .... Usually, the authority that detains undocumented migrants will wait for the employer/agent to come forward.... and get their 'migrant workers' - so, do you see the power that these people have over migrant workers when they wrongfully keep the passport and other travel documents?

Did anyone see a Malaysian report to these allegations that have been reported? If you do, just comment under this post ....

Modern-day slavery rife in Malaysia’s electronics industry

Report says a third of migrant workers in industry are trapped in debt bondage and have their passports illegally withheld,
MDG :  Electronics industry in Malaysia : Women employees on factory line at Flextronics
Women work at an electronics factory in Malaysia. A report says forced labour is used in the supply chains of many household brands. Photograph: Jonathan Drake/Getty Images
One-third of migrant workers in the Malaysian electronics industry, which produces goods for some of the world’s best-known brands, are trapped in forced labour, a form of modern-day slavery, according to new research.

A report by Verité, an NGO working on supply chain accountability, found that forced labour is present in the supply chains of a wide cross-section of household electronics brands, which use Malaysian factories to produce billions of pounds worth of goods every year.

The NGO interviewed more than 500 workers and concluded that debt bondage and the illegal confiscation of passports and documents were the main drivers of this “systemic” forced labour, which traps workers in low-paid jobs and prevents them from returning home.

Once in the workplace, migrant workers face further exploitation and abuse due to their inability to leave. Verité’s investigations found that workers were forced to live in cramped and dangerous accommodation, that female workers experienced sexual abuse by their supervisors, and migrants were forced to work excessive overtime under the threat of losing their jobs, which would leave them saddled with large debts they couldn’t pay off.

A large number of multinational companies from the US, Europe, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea use Malaysia as their manufacturing base. In 2013, more than $2.6bn (£1.6bn) of investment originated from overseas.

“What was most shocking to us was that this was happening in modern facilities, some of which were owned and operated by major international brands,” said Dan Viederman, chief executive of Verité. 

“This work has led us to conclude that forced labour in this industry is systemic and that every company operating in this sector in Malaysia faces a high risk of forced labour in their operations.”

Thousands of people from Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Vietnam and other countries travel to Malaysia every year for work. According to a 2010 Amnesty International report, many enter the workplace at least $1,000 in debt, after being charged high fees by recruitment agents. The vast majority of workers interviewed by Verité were found to have been charged excessive fees by recruitment agencies, both in their home countries and in Malaysia.

Verité’s investigation revealed that 77% of migrant workers had to borrow money for recruitment fees.

Some 95% of those interviewed said they didn’t feel they could leave their jobs until they had paid off their debts. Their situation was made worse after a 2013 change in Malaysian law made it possible for employers to pass on the cost of a per-capita levy the government charges on the use of foreign labour to the workers themselves, increasing their debt by almost $400.

The interviews revealed that although it is illegal under Malaysian law, more than 90% of workers had their passports taken by managers at their place of work or by recruitment agents, with most saying they were unable to get them back.

This year the US state department downgraded Malaysia to the lowest tier of its Trafficking in Persons report, which ranks countries on efforts to end modern-day slavery.

In the report, the state department criticised Malaysia for widespread abuse of its 4 million migrant workforce. Most of the electronics workers interviewed by Verité said they had been detained, harassed, blackmailed or threatened by immigration officials, police or the much-feared Rela, Malaysia’s voluntary citizen security corps, which is charged with rooting out illegal migrants.

Verité refuses to name brands it found to be using forced labour to produce goods, because it fears that would be counterproductive to its mission to create greater accountability in supply chains.

“We didn’t go into this research looking to name and shame,” Viederman said. “What we are concerned about is that the use of forced labour is absolutely systemic and that any company that produces or sources electronics from Malaysia must work to ensure that they are proactively taking actions to eliminate that risk.” - The Guardian, 17/9/2014, Modern-day slavery rife in Malaysia’s electronics industry

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