Migrant workers particularly vulnerable to forced labor in Malaysia, where many electronics companies make their products.
Workers assemble electronic components at a factory in Shenzhen, China. Nearly half of Malaysia's electronics manufacturing workers are trapped in forced labor, according to a new report.
More than one-quarter of workers in the electronics manufacturing industry in Malaysia – where a number of tech giants make their products – are trapped in forced labor, a new report finds. Migrant workers are worse off, with one-third engaged in forced labor.
The survey, done by the nonprofit organization Verité and paid for by the U.S. Labor Department, shows some 46 percent of Malaysia's electronics workers faced at least one of the forced labor indicatorsdetermined by the International Labor Organization, which include debt bondage, restriction of movement and withholding of wages.
Nearly three-quarters of workers in Malaysia's electronics sector are vulnerable to forced labor in some form, according to the study.
Verité researchers in Malaysia surveyed a sample of about 500 workers in the country’s electronics manufacturing sector. Their findings illuminate the way impoverished workers, many of them migrants, end up stuck toiling in inhumane conditions.
Leaving their countries under false promises of good employment, a vast majority (92 percent) of migrant workers pay recruiting fees for their jobs – fees that often outstrip industry norms to such an extent it forces 77 percent of workers charged with them to borrow money. About half of the migrant laborers reported they spent at least half of their employment contracts simply paying off these recruitment debts, pushing them into overtime work and making it impossible for them to leave their jobs.
In addition to facing these overwhelming debts, nearly all migrant workers have their passports held by their employers or recruiting agent, and most found it difficult regain possession of them, complicating their ability to travel and move around freely. Migrant workers also reported the employer- or third-party-provided housing to be cramped quarters that felt unsafe.
A number of American and multinational companies have factories in Malaysia, and many more depend on third-party middlemen there. According to the Verité report, one-quarter of workers employed directly by factories were in forced labor conditions, while the rate of forced labor rises to 35 percent when it comes to workers employed by third-party outsourcing. However the survey does did not name specific guilty parties, despite the fact that some workers were able to indicate the brands of the products they were making.
“Many of the most recognizable brands are exposed to forced labor into their supply chains,” said Verité CEO Dan Viederman in a press call. However, the systemic problems are so pervasive, he said, that the burden now falls on the companies to determine their products are not being made under conditions of forced labor.
“Every brand operating in Malaysia should respond,” he said.