Migrant workers in Malaysia’s electronics industry are heavily indebted by the time they start working because of extortionate fees of recruitment agencies. Migrant workers are paid less, sometimes even only half, of what they were promised by the agencies that recruited them, and deductions are made from wages without proper explanation.

Workers will undergo HIV testing as part of medical screening and women workers have to have mandatory pregnancy tests and are sent back home if they get pregnant. Contracts, if received at all, are often in a language not understood by the migrant workers, and migrants regularly work up to 72 hour per week.

Outsourcing Labour

Migrant labour rights in Malaysia’s electronics industry

Many other violations were found by recent field research, including the fact that most workers interviewed had their passports held by the outsourcing agencies, to prevent them from leaving. The findings are presented in the recent makeITfair-report ‘Outsourcing Labour’, which will be released by the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) today.

All in all, these workers face atrocious working conditions”, explains SOMO-researcher Esther de Haan “ and are earning less to nothing for long hours of work”.

makeITfair worked with local researchers in Malaysia and interviewed over one hundred workers. The wages of the migrant workers in Malaysia are not only much lower than initially promised and expected, but are also partly used to pay off debts and to pay for accommodation. Workers receive subsistence wages for above-average working hours, including structural unpaid overtime. Workers also face disciplinary measures and threats of deportation in case they might complain or are absent, even when on grounds of illness. Anonymous complaint mechanisms are virtually absent or not made accessible to migrant workers by failing to provide information in their native language.

The factories that were investigated provide parts for DVDs, cameras, and TVs, chips and remote controls to large brand names like Sony, Panasonic and Toshiba. These companies take inadequate steps to protect migrant workers in their supply chain, the research shows. None of the companies sourcing form the factories researched for this report have a specific policy on migrant workers. Two companies sourcing in Malaysia, HP and Apple, have, however begun including migrant workers in their monitoring and training activities. Philips has also let makeITfair know that they have taken up the issue in their factory in Malaysia and are adapting their policies on migrant labour and are taking action on several problems they have identified.

The found labour rights violations are directly linked to the current outsourcing practices in Malaysia, where recruitment agencies increasingly act as direct employers, blurring employment relationships and obscuring responsibility for labour rights violations. Furthermore, the fact that migrant workers are dependent on employers and outsourcing agents for their legal status means they are vulnerable to abuse and effectively have no access to justice, as complaints can lead to dismissal and deportation.