Despite US warning, Putrajaya says no proof of ‘forced labour’ in Malaysia so far

Workers returning home to the Air Biru foreign workers enclave, Iskandar Malaysia's pilot housing project for migrant workers in the region. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Workers returning home to the Air Biru foreign workers enclave, Iskandar Malaysia's pilot housing project for migrant workers in the region. — Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, March 16 — Putrajaya revealed today that it has found no evidence so far of forced labour in the country’s electrical and electronics sector, although Malaysia was placed on a global watch list by the United States Labour Department last December.

International Trade and Industry deputy minister Datuk Hamim Samuri pointed out in the Dewan Rakyat today that Malaysia is still exporting electronic products to the US as no ban is in place at the moment.

“The ministry and other relevant agencies have investigated and up till now, 25 electrical and electronic companies have been checked and we did not find any evidence of forced labour, during our preliminary investigations,” he said in his reply to Bayan Baru MP Sim Tze Tzin in Parliament.

He added that the ministry is working with the Human Resources Ministry and other agencies, including the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Council (Mapo) as well as the US embassy to investigate the allegations.

The Ledang MP said some of the allegations stem from “something petty” such as employers holding on to the workers’ passport upon the foreign workers’ request over fear of losing the important document.

According to the ministry’s web site, E&E is Malaysia’s leading manufacturing sector and contributed 32.8 per cent to the country’s exports and 27.2 per cent in employment in 2013.

It is unclear what proportion the 25 companies investigated represent in the sector.

‘‘The watch-list is to raise awareness about child labour and forced labour all over the world including Malaysia, to encourage two-way cooperation in handling this.

‘‘We admit that this negative impression can give a negative implication on the country’s electrical and electronic export in the long run if steps are not taken to resolve this problem,’’ he said.

Hamim stressed that the government takes the issue seriously and does not condone forced labour in this country.

Malaysia’s export of electrical and electronic products is worth RM36.4 billion annually, he added.