Vietnam to verify report of 'modern slavery' among workers in Malaysia

By T. Hang, Thanh Nien News

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Factory workers wait for rides at dawn in the neighborhood of Majestic Heights in Paya Terubong, Penang, Malaysia in 2013. Photo: Bloomberg Factory workers wait for rides at dawn in the neighborhood of Majestic Heights in Paya Terubong, Penang, Malaysia in 2013. Photo: Bloomberg
Vietnam will investigate whether 40 percent of its migrant workers suffer passport retention and debt bondage in Malaysia’s electronics sector as suggested in a US-funded report, which described the situation as tantamount to "modern slavery."
“The Vietnamese Labor Management Board in Malaysia will follow up on the information provided in the report,” Nguyen Thanh Hoa, deputy labor minister, told Thanh Nien on Friday.
The study, conducted by international labor rights group Verité and funded by the US Department of Labor, revealed that 32 percent of nearly 200,000 foreign workers in Malaysia’s electronics sector were stuck in forced labor situations. The rate for all workers, both foreign and local, in the electronics industry was lower--28 percent.
Passport retention and a system of forced overtime designed to make workers pay back illegally excessive recruitment fees were employed by the exploitative employers, according to the study.
Verité said each Vietnamese worker had to work off 3,500 Malaysian Ringgit (US$1,080) in recruitment fees -- the highest amount compared to workers from other countries, including Myanmar, Indonesia and Nepal.
Meanwhile, Vietnamese workers received the lowest salaries – around 1,000 Malaysian Ringgit ($308) a month.
“When I was recruited, the agent promised my salary would be $422-468, but in fact it is $340,” the study quoted an unnamed female Vietnamese worker in Penang as saying.
Another female Vietnamese worker in Penang said: “Our employer forces us to work seven days a week. I am exhausted. I stand for 12 hours every day.”
“If we don’t work, our employer beats us. I have seen a Nepalese worker beaten. The employer also beat a Vietnamese worker and cut her hair,” she said.
Hoa, the Vietnamese deputy labor minister, said his ministry would work with their Malaysian counterpart to review and change their bilateral cooperation agreement.
The International Labor Organization said in a press release on Friday that it is “seriously concerned” about the findings of the report by Verité.
While saying that it is not in a position to verify the specific numbers in the report, the organization confirmed that “there are real problems with working conditions, employment and recruitment practices - particularly in relation to migrant workers - that need to be urgently addressed.”
The electronics sector is Malaysia’s leading manufacturing industry and a key driver of the Malaysian economy, contributing 33 percent of exports last year.
As a major global manufacturing hub for the electrical and electronics sectors, Malaysia has been chosen as a manufacturing base by many famous companies including Samsung, Sony, Intel, and Bosch.

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