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5 Jan 2022

Simon Glover, EcoTextile

Malaysia: Report finds migrant garment workers face working conditions consistent with forced labour

"Study links garment workers to forced labour", 5 January 2022

Migrant workers employed in Malaysia's garment industry experience conditions consistent with the use of forced labour, according to a new study by the Transparentem NGO.

Investigators interviewed around 45 workers from Bangladesh, Nepal and Indonesia employed by three apparel manufacturers in Malaysia and say that all reported conditions linked with forced labour by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The migrant workers had paid recruitment-related fees of up to US$5,294, the equivalent of 20 months of minimum wage pay in Malaysia, to land their jobs. Many had borrowed money from their employers to finance these, resulting in potential debt bondage...

Workers at one or more of the factories said they experienced other forced labour indicators, including abusive living and working conditions, retention of identity documents and withholding of wages.

Some also described other labour abuses or concerning conditions, such as discipline by fines, compulsory overtime, restrictions on freedom of association and the lack of effective grievance mechanisms...

"Transparentem approached 10 buyers that appeared to have business relationships with the investigated suppliers to discuss the findings and encourage them to use their influence to improve workers’ lives," it said.

Four of the contacted buyers collaborated on addressing conditions at one of the manufacturers, while one buyer worked alone at each of the other two, leading to recruitment fees totalling nearly US$700,000 being repaid to 800 workers.

But the report added: "While all three suppliers instituted recruitment fee repayment plans for foreign migrant workers, no company reported a repayment plan that guaranteed complete reimbursement of all worker-borne recruitment fees and costs.

"One factory’s repayment plan will take three years to complete, perpetuating the risk of debt bondage. No buyer gave money to repay worker-borne recruitment fees."...