One in every three migrant workers employed in Malaysia’s electronics industry is working in conditions of forced labour, finds a new report.
Conducted by Verité and based on interviews with 500 male and female workers across all major producing regions, electronics products, and foreign worker nationalities, the report found forced labour is present in Malaysia in “more than just isolated cases, and that the problem is indeed widespread”.
The report was underpinned by the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) guidelines on how to estimate forced labour, which are around the vulnerability to forced labor, and the various risk factors that can combine to trap workers in their jobs.
Dan Viederman, CEO of Verité, said this report is an eye-opener into forced labour in Malaysia.
“Our report provides a clear sense of the scope of the problem in the industry, as well as the root causes underlying this egregious form of abuse, which center on unlawful and unethical recruitment practices,” he said.
Forced labor is largely linked to recruitment fees charged to workers and the indebtedness that follows, the study finds. In fact, 92% of the foreign workers surveyed had paid recruitment fees to get their jobs, the amounts often exceeding legal standards equivalent to one month’s wage.
Overall, the statistics are quite alarming:
- Of foreign workers who had not yet paid off their debt, 92% reported feeling compelled to work overtime hours to pay it off, and 85% felt it was impossible to leave their job before doing so.
- One in five workers were misled in the recruitment phase about the terms of their employment agreement.
- 22% were deceived about their wages, hours, overtime requirements or pay, provisions regarding termination of employment, or the nature or degree of difficulty or danger of their jobs.
- Passport retention, which is prohibited by law in Malaysia, was widely experienced by workers. 94% said that their passports were held by the facility or their broker/agent, and 71% reported it was impossible or difficult to get their passports back.
Other top factors identified as contributors to forced labor include unlawful passport retention, deceptive recruitment practices, constrained freedom of movement, poor living conditions, fines and other penalties that prevent workers from being able to resign, and inadequate legal protections.
“The problem of forced labor within the Malaysian electronics industry is complex, but many of the solutions are not,” Viederman said.
“Governments, companies and civil society alike need to increase transparency into the recruitment process for workers. Third-party employment agents should be regulated by governments and held accountable for their practices by their clients.
“These actions alone will go a long way to ensure that workers are treated fairly within the industry.”