Malaysia is one of Asia's biggest employers of foreign labour. But recently, cases of deaths, abuse and forced labour have come to light. What is going on? Who is protecting these migrant workers?
Malaysia’s current Tier 3 ranking in a United States anti-human traficking report may see it being excluded from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), The Huffington Post reported.
The American online news aggregator and blog said the US senate has approved a bill that will “fast-track” trade agreements negotiated by the president, and this included the controversial TPPA trade agreement, but a provision on crackdown on human trafficking remained.
It said the White House considered the clause a “deal breaker” as it would force Malaysia out of the agreement.
Huffington Post said Democratic party Senator Bob Menendez came up with the provision that would prevent Malaysia from participating in the agreement, but later settled with leaders from the Republican party over “modified language” that essentially means Malaysia would be allowed to continue participating in the TPPA as long as there is progress on reducing its dependence on “slave labour”.
However, the modification was not included in the final Bill.
The US State Department’s 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report issued a damning statement on the Malaysian government’s poor efforts in fighting modern day slavery, noting that there was ample evidence of forced labour and sex trafficking in the country.
This has seen Malaysia downgraded to Tier 3, which is the lowest possible ranking.
It relegated the Southeast Asian nation to the same category as Zimbabwe, North Korea and Saudi Arabia, indicating that the country had failed to comply with basic international requirements to prevent trafficking and protect victims within its borders. It was also reported that Malaysia would have been downgraded two years earlier, but a grace period was given to allow time to make the necessary improvements, yet nothing was done.
“It’s an interesting thing, isn’t it, about Menendez – it didn’t get fixed,” The Huffington Post quoted Menendez’s party colleague Senator Sherrod Brown as saying.
“So, it means, if nothing changes, Malaysia should not be in this agreement.
“And if the president relaxes or un-designates Malaysia as a Tier 3 designation, it would be a tragedy. So either Congress changes it or the House changes it.”
The Huffington Post also said President Barack Obama may be caught in a tight spot by the human trafficking clause but noted that the administration could do away with the “procedural hurdle” by upgrading Malaysia’s formal status on human trafficking.
However, it warned that this would undermine the integrity of a key US human rights initiative aimed at shaming “rogue regimes”.
Human rights activists in Malaysia and abroad had previously said Malaysia’s downgrade from Tier 2 to 3 was proof of the government’s lax law enforcement and lack of political will, in the face of continued NGO and media reports on trafficking and slavery.
Late last year, Malaysia’s palm oil industry was cited by the United States Department of Labour for using child labour and for forced labour in the country’s electronics and garment sectors.
Putrajaya, however, had said there is no child or forced labour in Malaysia’s oil palm sector, citing a six-month survey on 68 plantations and smallholdings nationwide.
Opposition Penang MP Sim Tze Tzin had also said the electronic industry practised self-regulation through the Electronic Industry Code of Conduct (EICC).
More than 20 million people worldwide are believed to be ensnared in some form of human trafficking, according to the International Labour Organization. – May 24, 2015.
Source: The Malaysian Insider
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