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Forced labour in Malaysia

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In Malaysia, several practices and conditions put migrant workers in situations where they are very dependent on their employer, and where it is difficult for them to leave this employer. This creates conditions for potential debt bondage and forced laboru.


Employment agencies are responsible for many aspects of migrants’ life and work: they provide the job, accommodation, food, transportation, medical care and fix and pay wages. They are also entitled, if necessary, to taking disciplinary measures on behalf of employers. They deal with work permits and cover working visa costs. Companies remain responsible for working conditions, working hours and safety in the workplace. The outcome of this hiring system is that migrant workers are highly dependent on employment agencies, and that companies contracting through these employment agencies lose control of many of the migrant's working and living conditions, thus allowing for greater Human Rights violation risks (i.e.: discrimination vs. other company workers, forced labour, poor working conditions, etc.).


According to several investigations carried by NGOs and independent social audits, forced labour is quite common in Malaysia: with migrant passports being withheld, bank accounts controlled by agencies, etc. These migrants are placed to work in physical and/or social isolation, and are also vulnerable to physical and/or verbal abuse and discrimination.


Furthermore, temporary workers' rights to association, such as joining a trade union and/or negotiating with  companies, are very limited. Especially as the majority of temporary workers are migrants, they are dependent of outsourcing agencies. The freedom of movement is strictly controlled by these agents, and they generally have to work to pay off their debt, constituting obvious forced labour for these migrant workers.


Today, contract workers, made up of both local and migrant workers, are found in all sectors and most workplaces in Malaysia, representing, in some factories, up to 50% of the total workforce.



Multi-stakeholder views

Upon arrival in Malaysia, the workers’ descent into forced labor is often reinforced through additional burdens, such as the withholding of passports; levying deductions and withholdings  which further diminishes the worker’s take-home pay and ability to pay off debt; taking control of bank accounts; placing the worker in physical or social isolation; and subjecting the worker to threats of deportation. While at the workplace, migrant workers are also vulnerable to physical or verbal abuse and discrimination, and their freedom of movement may be strictly curtailed.”




For more information, click here to download our report on forced labour.