No surprises for Suaram as Malaysia linked to forced child labour

A Malaysian human rights group said a recent report linking child labour to the country’s oil palm industry came as “no surprise”.

PUBLISHED: Dec 2, 2014 07:12pm UPDATED: Dec 2, 2014 07:12pm

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 2, 2014: A Malaysian human rights group said a recent report linking child labour to the country’s oil palm industry came as “no surprise”.

Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) executive director Yap Swee Seng told The Rakyat Post that this was because Malaysia was already known for mistreating migrant workers.

Yap lamented that even after Malaysia was downgraded to Tier 3 for failing to take action against human trafficking activities, the nation still saw no proactive and concrete measures taken by the government to address the root causes.

The country was downgraded, earlier this year, a status which would see Malaysia receiving less funds as the United States government would use the ranking to withhold or withdraw assistance unrelated to trade or humanitarian aid.

“Many incidences of child labour have been reported in the country, and also of the dire condition that the migrant workers here have to face.

“So far, we can see no improvements in the situation, nor have we seen any actions taken against employers, the recruitment agencies, or the responsible parties who have played a role in this inhumane acts.”

Yap was commenting on a report by the United States Department of Labour.

According to the report, published on the department’s website on Dec 1, electronic products from Malaysia had been added to the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorisation Act list, for being produced with forced labour.

Yap said these incidences gave rise to the question of whether the country even had a sufficient legal protection for workers, especially children, as it seemed they were unable to seek help for the unfair treatment they received.

He explained the lack of strong laws had silenced migrant workers as they feared punishment from police, Immigration Department and even their employers.

The government, Yap said, should amend existing laws to strengthen their protection and provide them with recourse to make complaints without any fear.

“If this situation is not rectified soon, this country will end up with a negative image on the international stage.”

Yap suggested for there to be an independent, non-government-related body that must be allowed to conduct spot-checks on factories and work sites here, to observe and stop such occurrences.

He said organisations like the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia should be provided with powers to take action against those found guilty of hiring children as part of their labour, or of mistreatment of their employees.

The Department of Labour’s reports defined “child labour” as work carried out by those below the age of 15 and was harmful to their health, safety and morals.

“Forced labour” on the other hand was defined as work that was done under coercion, force and fraud. It also included the application of threats or actual physical harm.