Forced labour allegations: Tip of the iceberg?

Unless we demonstrate a sincere commitment to conform with accepted labour standards, we will be shunned by investors

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When appliance maker Dyson decided to end its contract with ATA IMS Bhd over allegations of forced labour indicators, it ought to trigger alarm bells.

In the past, we saw actions against those in the rubber glove and plantation sectors. Now, we are confronted with allegations of forced labour indicators in the electrical sector.

The Penang division of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress had, in the past, expressed its concerns over forced labour indicators in sectors beyond the rubber glove and plantation sectors.

We had opined that a cross section of economic activities would fail to conform with the threshold of forced labour indicators. We, even then, said “we are inclined to believe that it would be a fact in all other sectors that employ migrant guest workers.”

The case of ATA IMS BHD seems to suggest that the government needs to cast its net to a wider spectrum of employers to ascertain the depth of non-compliance with forced labour indicators. We are convinced a comprehensive audit not only in the micro, small and medium enterprises but also in sectors such as tourism and hotels would unearth glaring instances of non-adherence to forced labour indicators.

We, in the MTUC, wish to reiterate that we are convinced that abuses of forced labour indicators prevail in a cross-section of economic activities and that the reported cases are but the tip of the iceberg.

Human Resources Minister M Saravanan is reported to have stated that forced labour allegations are hurting investor confidence, and we concur with him on the issue. But what ought to concern him more is the US government’s recent decision to downgrade Malaysia from Tier 2 to Tier 3 of its Trafficking In Persons dossier.

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The double whammy – the US TIP downgrading and increasing concerns of forced labour indicators prevailing in the country – will, without any iota of doubt, hurt our country’s reputation for attracting investments.

Our nation has no option but to act – and act with a sense of utmost urgency – in addressing the real problems of exploitation of workers, whether Malaysians or guest migrant workers.

Unless we demonstrate a sincere commitment to conform with accepted labour standards, we will be shunned by investors.

K Veeriah is secretary of the Penang division of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress

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