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KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 11 — Over 128,000 workers in Malaysia are employed in slave-like conditions and treated like livestock, according to the Global Slavery Index 2016.
The survey ranked Malaysia 50th out of 167 countries measured, with nearly a half per cent of the over 30 million population working in exploitative conditions described as “modern slavery”.
“[Modern] slavery refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power or deception, with treatment akin to a farm animal.
“For example, their passport might be taken away if they are in a foreign country, they may experience or be threatened with violence or their family might be threatened,” said the Walk Free Foundation that commissioned the report.
In the region, Malaysia was behind Singapore (130th, 9,200 people) in the number of workers considered to be modern day slaves, but ahead of Vietnam (47th, 139,300), the Philippines (19th, 401,000), Thailand (16th, 425,000) and Indonesia (10th, 736,100) The country with the most enslaved workers was India, with over 18 million, followed by China (3.3 million) and Pakistan (2.1 million). Luxembourg has the fewest at 100.
Over 45 million people across the 167 countries were in modern slavery.
Malaysia was also rated “CCC” in terms of government action to modern-day slavery, which is categorised as “limited response” as well as “limited support” for victims. The 10-tier ranking ranges from “AAA”, the best, to D, the worst.
According to the report, the majority of modern-day slaves in Malaysia — as with other richer Asian countries — were women and young girls who migrated work as domestic helpers.
“Inhumane treatment of domestic workers including starvation and sexual abuse was reported in 2015, as well as indicators of forced labour including extortionate recruitment fees, confinement to the place of employment, excessive unpaid overtime, withholding of wages and confiscation of identity documents,” the report said.
The spotlight fell on human smuggling in Malaysia and the surrounding region during a refugee crisis last year, when an estimated 6,000 to 20,000 migrants fleeing ethnic persecution in Myanmar and poverty in Bangladesh were left adrift in the Andaman Sea and the Straits of Malacca.
In what was dubbed a massive humanitarian disaster by the United Nations, the boat people were believed abandoned by their traffickers with little food or water.
Malaysia was previously ranked in the lowest Tier 3 of the US annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, but was upgraded to its current Tier 2 “watch list” despite the discovery of 139 graves and 28 human trafficking camps at Wang Kelian, Perlis, along the Thai border.
Lawmakers in both countries expressed suspicion at the time that Malaysia’s upgrade was to facilitate its participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership; the Tier 3 status would have prevented the US from entering a trade deal with Malaysia.