Pick a country name and read an assessment of the existing situation of forced labor in this country
Forced labour in Malaysia
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.
“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.
Forced labour in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia is a destination country for men and women subject to forced labour and, to a lesser extent, forced prostitution. Men and women from Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and many other countries voluntarily travel to Saudi Arabia as domestic workers or low-skilled labourers, and many subsequently face conditions indicative of involuntary servitude, including nonpayment of wages, long working hours without rest, deprivation of food, threats, physical and sexual abuse, and restrictions on movement such as the withholding of passports or confinement to the workplace.
Although many migrant workers sign contracts delineating their rights, there are reports of working conditions that are substantially different from those described in the contract. Some migrant workers also never see a contract at all, leaving them especially vulnerable to forced labour, including debt bondage.
Within the current sponsorship system, a company, private person or administration can be the “sponsor”. The company, as a sponsor, has a great responsibility towards the Saudi authorities, especially within the framework of the Saudization policy, Saudi Arabia's job localization policy.
Recruitment agencies also play a major role in the placement of workers in Saudi Arabia. Due to the clause in the system requiring that foreign workers receive permission from their employer to obtain an exit visa before leaving the country, there have been reports from migrant workers being forced to work for months or years beyond their contract term due to their employer not granting an exit permit.
Recruitment agencies in Saudi Arabia are occasionally resorted to for placing expatriates in temporary work or for expatriate wives wishing to take up local employment. There are numerous regulations controlling the employment of spouses, and separate work visas are required with a local employment agent handling the details. Local agents are also called upon when expatriates change jobs. This, however, remains fairly uncommon as expatriates are normally sent to Saudi Arabia under contract and job changes are restricted by their employers themselves.
Forced labour in Bulgaria
Bulgarian women and children are subject to sex trafficking within the country, particularly in resort areas and border towns. Labour trafficking victims are predominantly exploited in agriculture, construction, and in restaurants. Ethnic Roma men, women, and children are particularly vulnerable to becoming trafficking victims due to social marginalization, and represent a significant share of the identified trafficked victims. Some Bulgarian children are forced into street begging and petty theft in foreign countries, and Bulgarian women and girls with mental disabilities are increasingly subject to sex trafficking.
The unfavorable national economic situation continues to stimulate and increase the migration of potential and actual victims of human trafficking in the EU and non-European countries.
According to the U.S. Department of State 2013 report on trafficking, the Government of Bulgaria however does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. Despite efforts to meet these, it has prosecuted few cases against alleged trafficking offenders, and the majority of convicted offenders did not receive the required prison sentence.
Forced labour in China
Despite the fact that China addresses different aspects of forced labour in both its criminal and its labour legislation, it remains a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subject to forced labour.
The implementation of the labour contract law in China did not indeed constrain the labour dispatch system which remains the norm on the employment market. Chinese law limits labour dispatch work to “temporary, auxiliary or replacement” positions and prohibits different treatment between labour dispatch workers and permanent workers.
According to recent studies carried out in Shenzhen however, labour dispatch workers appear to receive much lower wages than permanent workers and work in poor conditions often working on site longer hours than legally authorised. The working records communicated to employement agencies rarely reflect reality with dispatch workers service working hours often being systematically started anew. It was also observed that most of the posts filled by dispatch workers are fixed and key rather than temporary and auxiliary positions. The majority of companies resorting to labour dispatch workers are stated-owned or international companies considered “renowned” or “profit-making” in sectors such as telecommunications, finance, banking, railways and petroleum.
The right to freedom of association is also limited in China for both local and internal migrant workers, where joining a trade union or having staff representatives can be challenged.
Chinese law stipulates that rural workers (internal migrants) who move to urban areas for employment purposes shall benefit from equal labour rights to urban workers and will not be subject to discriminatory restrictions. However, the Hukou system (household registration system) implies that when one leaves one's registered place of residence, access to social benefits are lost. The internal migrant workers less often have a formal labour contract. They have poor living conditions, are more vulnerable to health problems, more exposed to crime.
Opinions of multi-stakeholders
“Trafficking is pronounced among China’s internal migrant population, estimated to exceed 236 million. Forced labor remains a problem, including in brick kilns, coal mines, and factories, some of which operate illegally and take advantage of lax labor supervision. Forced labor, including forced begging by adults and children, took place throughout China in 2012. Some evidence of child labor has been reported by media outlets, but the government has publicized only limited data on the subject. During the reporting period, some children in “work-study programs” supported by local governments were forced to work in farms and factories. In 2012, instances of schools forcing students to work in factories were reported. In November 2012, police rescued 11 mentally disabled men from a car wash in Tianjin, where the men had been beaten and not paid. Girls from the Tibet Autonomous Region are reportedly trafficked to other parts of China for domestic servitude and forced marriage.”
Human Trafficking report 2013 (U.S. Department of State)
For more information, click here to download our report on forced labour.
Forced labour in Indonesia
Indonesia is a major source country and to a much lesser extent a destination and transit country for women, children, and men subject to sex trafficking and forced labour. According to the U.S. Department of State, a significant number of Indonesian migrant workers face conditions of forced labour and debt bondage in Asia and the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Taiwan, Singapore, Oman, and Hong Kong.
Recruitment companies operate to trafficking rings, leading male and female workers into debt bondage and other trafficking situations. Licensed and unlicensed companies use debt bondage, withhold documents, and threats of violence to keep Indonesian migrants in situations of forced labour.
Nationally, in Indonesia, many outsourced workers are not contracted through written agreement despite the fact that Article 65 states that outsourced workers shall be employed by written agreement for a defined work period (PKWT). The agreement between the User Company and outsourced worker must be agreed by the employment agency.
Contract and agency workers are therefore more likely to be exploited by factory management, and suffer from lower wages, forced overtime, intimidation and higher production targets. With regards to wages only, outsourced workers contracts have limitations in terms of wage structure and pay scales often based on a job analysis, description and evaluation. As temporary workers only perform specific tasks at a defined time, generally temporary, the company reserves the right to limit these structure and wage scale for such workers.
Employment agencies also take a minimum 10% commission before paying migrant workers their wages, meaning that many of these workers effectively end up receiving less than the legal minimum wage.
Forced labour in Qatar
Foreign migrant workers comprise more than 90% of Qatar's workforce. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) based this estimate on current mortality figures for Nepalese and Indian workers who form the bulk of Qatar's 1.2 million-strong migrant workforce, the majority of which are builders. However, according to the U.S. Department of State report on trafficking, these expatriate workers originating from Asia and parts of Africa are routinely subject to forced labour. The majority voluntarily migrate to Qatar as low-skilled workers or domestic servants but are subsequently subject to involuntary servitude.
The most common identified labour violations include obliging workers to accept worse contract terms to those under which initially recruited, beatings, withholding of payment, charging for benefits normally under the employer's responsibility, severe restrictions on freedom of movement (such as confiscating passports, travel documents or exit permits), arbitrary detention, legal action threats, mental and sexual assault. The Guardian newspaper published claims that at least 44 foreign workers have died due to poor work conditions in the past three months alone.
Many migrant workers arriving in Qatar have paid exorbitant fees to recruiters in their home countries. According to the 2009 Sponsorship Law, which has been widely described as akin to “modern-day slavery”, sponsors may restrict workers' movements and workers may be afraid to report abuses or claim their rights, which further their situation in forced labour. Migrant workers were in addition excluded from the 2004 Labour Law which has exposed them to greater labour exploitation and abuse, including sexual abuse.
Qatari laws against forced labour are rarely enforced, and labour laws in fact often result in the detention of victims in deportation centers, pending the completion of legal proceedings. The Government of Qatar does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking nor does it demonstrate evidence of significant efforts towards punishing traffickers and/or proactively identifying victims.
The ITUC stated the promised raids and checks by the government did nothing to terminate the Qatari system which strips migrant workers of their passports, renders them powerless to denounce their conditions, and traps them in the country.
In addition, government workers and non-Qatari nationals are not allowed to join unions. Migrant workers, who make up 85%-95% of the workforce, are also frequently mistreated with reports of deaths at work and in the camps where they live.
Forced labour in Romania
Romania is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subject to forced labour. Romanian men, women, and children are subjected to forced labour in agriculture, domestic services, hotels, and manufacturing, as well as forced in begging and theft activities in European countries.
Children are likely to represent at least one-third of Romanian trafficking victims. A large proportion of the children forced in begging in Western European countries were Romanian victims of Roma ethnicity. Traffickers who recruit and exploit Romanian citizens are increasingle of Romanian nationality, typically seeking victims from the same ethnic group and/or within their own families.
Due to illegal migration, identifying forced labour in Romania is very complex. As of today however, Romania tends to remain a country of origin and transit, rather than a destination country.
Despite the fact that the Government of Romania does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government continues to identify a large number of victims and seeks to coordinate a national referral mechanism whereby victims are sent to the appropriate social care institutions.
Forced labour in Thailand
Thailand is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children subject to forced labour and sex trafficking. There is an estimated two to three million migrant workers in Thailand, mostly employed on temporary contracts, the majority of which originates from Burma and Myanmar with placement agencies specialized in these countries.
The U.S. Department of State 2013 report on trafficking highlighted prevalent forced labour conditions, including debt bondage, among recruited Cambodian and Burmese individuals—some of which forcefully or through fraud—to work in the Thai fishing industry. According to the report, Burmese, Cambodian, and Thai men were trafficked onto Thai fishing boats travelling through Southeast Asia and beyond, where they remained at sea several years, unpaid, forced to work 18 to 20 hours per day for seven days a week, and were threatened and physically beaten.
Migrant workers remain particularly vulnerable to trafficking due to their lack of legal status, low economic position, lack of education, the language barriers, and failure to understand Thai law.
Recent changes in the law (2010) have strengthened legal requirements enhancing the protection of temporary workers and strengthening controls over the last two years. Temporary workers should now receive “the same and fair benefits” as permanent workers. According to the new legislation, there must be “objective and material reasons” for using a fixed term contract. But, there is no limitation on the maximum number of successive fixed term contracts but the maximum cumulative duration of successive fixed term contract cannot exceed 2 years.
According to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), laws still do not effectively protect migrant workers, various ethnic groups, indigenous people and/or stateless people from forced labour and human trafficking.
Pay and working conditions all too often fail to meet the minimum legal requirements. With regards to wages, subcontracted workers are generally paid less than regular workers despite the fact they perform identical core business activities. There are also major issues, often ineligible, around basic health and safety protections and benefits.
Additionally, agency workers are more likely to suffer workplace accidents as they are assigned to more hazardous and risky tasks. Agency workers are also not allowed to join the union in place because their work is classified as that of a service provider. The Commission found that foreign workers would often be made redundant, stripped of their work permits and sent back home if they tried to protect their own rights and called for better wages and overtime pay.
Forced labour in Taiwan
Some of whom have reported non- or under-payment of wages, long working hours, physical abuse, lack of food, and poor living conditions. An unknown number of these men are trafficking victims .
According to this year's Trafficking in Persons Report, they are caught in a trap set by recruitment agencies and brokers to perform low-skilled work in Taiwan's manufacturing and fishing industries and as home caregivers and domestic workers . Many of these workers fall victim to labor traffiking by brokers, some of whom are Taiwan passport-holders, in their home countries or to employers in Taiwan.
Migrant workers are reportedly charged up to $7,700 in recruitment fees typically in their home countries, resulting in substantial debt that may be used by brokers or employers as a coercive tool to subject the workers to forced labour .
It is a rather common practice for employers to withhold employees' payment until the contract is terminated, and to withhold several months of wages to unskilled workers. This is debt-bondage. NGOs reported that labourer brokers and employers regularly collected high fees or loan payments from foreign workers, frequently using debt as a tool for involuntary servitude. They also report that foreign workers were unwilling to report employer abuses as they fear a contract ending or forced deportation, letting them unable to pay back debts accrued to brokers or others . Also, after recruitment, fee repayments are garnished from their wages. Some foreign domestic service workers in Taiwan earn significantly less than minimum wage .
Meanwhile, according to several investigations , it is common that passport or other identity papers of the migrant workers are withhold by the employers or the recruitment agencies. This , in order to avoid their escape and to prevent them from leaving their job or their residences freely.
Forced labour in Vietnam
Vietnam is a source and, to a lesser extent, a destination country for men, women, and children subject to sex trafficking and forced labour. Vietnam’s labour export companies, most of which are affiliated with state-owned companies, and unlicensed intermediary brokers, have been known to charge workers illegally high fees for the opportunity to work abroad. Vietnamese men and women also migrate through informal labour recruitment companies in the construction, fishing, agriculture, mining, logging, and manufacturing sectors primarily to South Asia and the Middle East.
Some of these workers subsequently face conditions of forced labour. Through unlicensed intermediary brokers, Vietnamese workers incur some of the highest debts among Asian expatriate workers, making them highly vulnerable to forced labour, especially debt bondage. Upon arrival in destination countries, some workers find themselves compelled to work in bad conditions for little to no pay, despite large debts, and no viable legal recourse.
Some recruitment companies reportedly do not allow workers to read their contracts until the day prior to their departure, and some workers have been known to sign contracts in languages they could not read. There have also been documented cases of recruitment companies being unresponsive to workers’ requests for assistance in situations of exploitation.
There have also been testimonies from Vietnamese men, women, and children subject to forced labour within Vietnam as well as abroad. The Vietnamese trafficking victims are sent to other countries for sexual exploitation or forced labour. In both sex and labour trafficking, debt bondage, confiscation of identity and travel documents, and threats of deportation are commonly used as means of intimidation.
In a Human Labor Watch report in 2011, it is also noted that workers who refuse to work are beaten with truncheons, given electric shocks, locked in isolation, deprived of food and water, and obliged to work even longer hours.
“Hung, 35, from Ha Tay Province has just returned from Korea. In 1999 he was honored by the Korean Business Association for several initiatives bringing benefit to his employer, Busan Shipbuilding Company. He is in good health, enthusiastic, disciplined, and can speak Korean and English fluently. Hung is the fifth child in an 11-member family. His elderly brothers and sisters all have their own families, while his younger brothers farm and go to school. The VND300mil he sent from Korea now seem to be insufficient for his big family. Hung decided to keep VND50mil for himself to look for a job after he returned home; however, no enterprise or state agency have employed him, reasoning that he is only a senior high school, though Hung has acquired good experience, and language skills. After six months of unemployment, Hung decided to buy a motorbike to work as a motorbike taxi driver in Van Dinh town.”
Source: Vietnam Trade Catalog (2006)
Forced labour in India
India is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children subject to forced labour and sex trafficking. Forced labour concerns an estimated 20 to 65 million citizens and constitutes India’s largest trafficking problem; men, women, and children in debt bondage are forced to work in industries such as brick kilns, rice mills, agriculture, and embroidery factories. A common characteristic of bonded labour is the use of physical and sexual violence as coercive measures.
According to the U.S. Department of State 2013 report on trafficking, there has been an increasing number of industries resorting to forced labour such as construction, textiles, telecommunications, biscuit factories, and horticulture. An increasing number of job placement agencies lure into false employment promises adults and children for sex trafficking or forced labour activities, including domestic servitude.
According to Indian law, temporary and contract workers may be contracted for work which is essentially of a temporary nature and takes place within a defined time. This legislation is however lifted for some industries (e.g.: information technology and business processing outsourcing) as well as for some States, in export processing and special free trade zones. There is also no limit to the extension of fixed term contracts (initial + renewals and/or prolongation) nor is there a maximum cumulated duration for fixed term contracts.
Further to a study conducted in four electronics manufactures recruiting contract workers, a frustration was noted on behalf of workers with regards to the employment system, especially with regards to work contracts and training systems. Workers claimed they were not informed about the lengthy process to become a regular employee and found that their contract and the training system in place in fact put them in an unfairly exploitative and insecure position. Workers shared their expectation to receive from multinational corporation factories fair salaries and employment benefits, but instead they have been faced with low wages and job insecurity where a significant difference in wage levels exists between permanent and contract workers.
Contract workers are also treated unfairly when it comes to freedom of association; as employees of the temporary employement agencies, it is close to impossible for them to bargain collectively, let alone join a union.
This inequality extends to working conditions where protective equipment, such as clothing, boots, gloves and masks, is supplied to permanent employees, while temporary workers received only a helmet and a pair of safety shoes.
Fifteen-year-old Rani was a 10th grade dropout from Kammalapatti, India. When Rani was 13 years old, she was recruited to work in a spinning mill in Itrupur in India. Rani ran away because of the harsh treatment and lost her US$756 lump sum payment.
The lack of worksite health and safety left Rani with burns on her skin due to the harsh chemicals. Unfortunately, medical care was not covered above US$4. Rani was not allowed to go anywhere unattended, and rarely allowed to leave her hostel. She was instructed not to speak to anyone, including her family without an “escort”. She was subjected to harassment and abuse in the factory and in the hostel. Rani was told the employer would terminate her work contract and withhold all the lump-sum payment that had accrued if she complained.