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12 Jul 2023

Belgium: Subcontracted Filipino workers reportedly subject to human trafficking at Borealis & other workplaces await backpay a year after case exposed; incl. cos. responses

In July 2022, 174 migrant workers were found to be working illegally in the factory of the Austrian chemical manufacturer, Borealis, in Belgium. The migrant workers were largely from Bangladesh, Turkey, and the Philippines.

In June 2023, Rappler released a series of articles outlining labour rights abuse experienced by 65 of the workers, mostly pipe fitters and crane operators, who were allegedly being paid extremely low wages, earning just €8.50 an hour in comparison to the Belgium standard of €18 to €24 an hour. The workers are still owed months of backpay amounting to €8,500.

In response, Borealis stated its subcontractor, IREM, was responsible for the exploitation. Borealis has since terminated its relationship with IREM. IREM recruited the workers, along with another subcontractor, Raj Bhar Engineering. The workers allege they were promised higher wages and work permits by IREM that never materialised upon arrival.

Rappler also describes labour rights violations experienced by some of the Filipino workers prior to and following the Borealis case. A second Rappler article focuses on the lack of remedy and ongoing precarity of the Filipino workers’ situation:

  • One of the Filipino workers alleges he previously worked for Daeshin Construction Plant, a Korean machinery manufacturer, where he earned poverty wages of just €2.65 per hour on 10-hour shifts. He paid a recruitment fee of around €1408 to VFG International for the role.
  • 58 Filipino workers were employed illegally by the German chemical producer BASF at Antwerp port in the month following the Borealis case, nine of whom were previously employed at the Borealis factory.
  • Some of the Filipino workers are employed by the Flemish manpower agency Job Talent and subject to arbitrary and unfair rental arrangements, including wage deductions for housing and unnecessarily punitive regulations. Manpower Resources of Asia is listed as one of Job Talent’s partners in the Philippines.

A Belgian public prosecutor is investigating whether the Borealis workers were trafficked; and the workers have been granted temporary residency until a decision has been made.

We contacted all companies mentioned in the report to respond to the allegations. Borealis, IREM and BASF provided a response, which can be read in full below. Job Talent, Manpower Resource Asia, VFG International, Raj Bhar Engineering, and Daeshin Construction Plant did not provide a response, though Job Talent did provide comments to the media.

Company Responses

Job Talent

No Response

Manpower Resources of Asia

No Response

VFG International

No Response

Raj Bhar Engineering

No Response

Daeshin Construction

No Response

Borealis (joint venture Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) of Abu Dhabi & OMV). View Response