KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 9 — Rock-bottom wages and poor treatment of migrant workers will hurt the economic development and growth at the macro level for Malaysia, two foreign diplomats said today.

In a joint opinion piece published in the New Straits Times (NST), British High Commissioner to Malaysia, Charles Hay and the United States ambassador Brian McFeeters added the problems stemming from the poor treatment of migrant workers here, and the image this creates for Malaysia in the global economy also makes moving manufacturing up the value chain and creating skilled, well-paying jobs for Malaysians more difficult.

This, the duo said, also dampens broader growth and development aspirations.

“The national action plan is an excellent step to spur Malaysia to address the issue of forced labour. But plans must turn into action, including by holding perpetrators criminally accountable.

“This action plan, the product of cooperation between ministries, industry and non-governmental organisations, supported by theInternational Labour Organisation, is a welcome step in the fight against forced labour in Malaysia.

“In addition, the whole of society, as well as those who count themselves Malaysia’s friends, can play a role. Police and labour inspectors can identify those who exploit victims for forced labour, and root out any attendant corruption, without prejudice, to prosecute perpetrators and protect victims,” they said.

Putrajaya had in November last year, launched a National Action Plan on Forced Labour to eliminate such practices by 2030.

In the last two years, seven Malaysian firms, including the world’s biggest glove maker and palm oil producer, have faced US import bans over allegations of forced labour.

In November last year, high-end British home-appliance producer Dyson Limited severed ties with its biggest supplier, Malaysian firm ATA IMS, over labour conditions.

Dyson told Reuters that it was ending its contract with the supplier, pursuant to an audit of the company’s labour practices and allegations by a whistleblower.

“This is a global phenomenon. Governments are often unwilling or too under-resourced to take meaningful action, if at all. And, as a result, millions suffer systemic abuse.

“Over the last 10 years, many countries, companies and consumers have realised the scale of the problem and are taking steps to address it,” Hay and McFeeters added.

They said that the United Kingdom passed its Modern Slavery Act in 2015, and the US passed the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act 2015 to strengthen efforts to prohibit the importation of goods produced by forced labour.

Hay and McFeeters pointed out that consumers and investors in many nations are growing increasingly learned about the global supply chain developments and demand fair treatment of its workers, adding that addressing and preventing forced labour isn’t just a human rights issue, but an economic issue.

“The costs to address forced labour once it is in the supply chain far outweigh the steps needed for prevention. Far better from the outset for recruitment of workers to be ethical, fully transparent and without cost to the workers. Far better for companies to provide fair and legal wages and proper work conditions.

“Far better to retain workers with good jobs, not through coercion. Far better to avoid reputational and financial damage and be confident in the workforce. As attention to the issue continues to grow, international companies will seek business environments that leave limited room for modern slavery. In seriously addressing the issue of forced labour, Malaysia will present itself as an even more competitive option,” they added.

The duo said that Putrajaya and the Malaysian Parliament can provide the regulatory framework to ensure a rigorous regime of standards, with businesses being proactive in using quality, no-notice audit processes to eradicate forced labour in their supply chains and recruit ethically.

They said that the government must take proactive and sustainable action to prosecute traffickers and protect victims, with companies also playing a role, while consumers can continue to demand ethical standards for their products and activists continuing to “troubleshoot, whistleblow and push the pace of change.”

“Indicators of forced labour are well-known, and these practices violate Malaysian law. Companies need to commit to preventing and addressing the forced labour issue and proactively root out these practices at every level to stave off more trade actions — and do their part to enhance, rather than diminish, Malaysia’s international reputation.

“Malaysian companies are justifiably proud of the quality of their products. What if they could be equally proud of how they treat workers? That would require large, medium and small business owners and executives to make such a determination and take action to treat workers well. The UK and US are ready to work together with Malaysia.

“Our countries face similar challenges at home. We are ready to share, support and build Malaysia’s capacity to turn the country into a global leader in the fight against forced labour,” they said.