Plantation workers in Malaysia abused reports WSJ

Malaysia ranks unfavourably in US’ Trafficking of Persons Report, 2014.

FMT Reporters | July 27, 2015

KUALA LUMPUR: Unsuspecting migrant workers brought in by human traffickers are being used as labourers in certain palm oil plantations in Malaysia, producer of 40 per cent of the world’s palm oil supply, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports.

“They buy and sell us like cattle,” one unnamed Bangladeshi worker was reported as saying.

Global attention to their ordeal, however, has intensified recently after Malaysian and Thai police found nearly 150 bodies of people believed to have died in human traffickers’ camps.

According to The Arakan Project which studies migration patterns via the Bay of Bengal, some 50,000 people have undertaken a perilous journey to Malaysia illegally over the past two years. Many have died en route here.

“There is a huge demand for labour in sectors such as plantations and construction,” Alfred Vengadasalam, a Malaysian lawyer, was quoted by WSJ as saying. “These are also the sectors where abuses are most common.”

The situation has prompted the United States to rank Malaysia at Tier 3 of its Trafficking in Persons Report issued last year.Tier 3 is the lowest of ranks, and indicates that there have been insufficient efforts taken out to halt human trafficking.

The ranking means that, under US law, negotiators cannot push through the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TTPA) with Malaysia under that country’s ‘fast-track’ legislation provisions. As a result, all eyes are now on this year’s State Department human-trafficking report due to be released today to see whether Malaysia will be upgraded to Tier 2.

“Malaysia’s government say palm oil is an important contributor to its economy,” WSJ’s report claims, and that the recruitment of foreign workers for plantations is being streamlined and coordinated. Officials also claim that Malaysian law makes sufficient provision for the protection of workers.

For its part, Felda Global Ventures (FGV) which sells crude palm oil to multinationals such as Cargill Inc., Nestlé SA and Procter & Gamble Co, says that 85 per cent of workers in its plantations are foreigners, and that they are afforded basic rights and amenities in accordance with the law and earn the minimum wage of RM900.

Many others working in the plantation sector, however, may not be as lucky. Forced into leaving their home country, some even at gunpoint, they and their families are also victims of extortion.

Of those working, some were reported to have gone six months without pay. They allege that their passports have been confiscated illegally and suffer threats of arrest by people in authority.

Many work in toxic environments without adequate protective gear and without training. Several also claim to have suffered disabilities and injuries without having received adequate treatment or compensation.