KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Nearly a third of some 350,000 workers in Malaysia’s electronics industry – a crucial link in the international consumer supply chain – suffer from conditions of modern-day slavery such as debt bondage, according to a study funded by the US Department of Labor.
The survey by Verite, an international labour rights group, found that abuse of workers’ rights – particularly the tens of thousands from low-wage countries like Nepal, Myanmar and Indonesia – was rife in a $75 billion sector that is a mainstay of the Southeast Asian country’s export-driven economy.
Several US, European, Japanese and South Korean multinationals have operations in Malaysia, including Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, Sony Corp, Advanced Micro Devices, Intel, and Bosch Ltd.
Some big brands use suppliers such as Flextronics, Venture Corporation, Jabil Circuit, and JCY International to make parts for smartphones, computers and printers. The US government funding adds credibility to a report which is likely to come as a surprise to many consumers.
Malaysia is a middle-income country where labour standards have been seen as better than in some of its Asian neighbours such as China, where questionable labour practices have drawn scrutiny in recent years.
Verite did not single out any companies in its report, released on Wednesday, but blamed a system in which government and industry policies have given Malaysian recruitment firms increasing control over workers’ pay and other conditions.
“These results suggest that forced labour
is present in the Malaysian electronics industry in more than isolated incidents, and can indeed be characterised as widespread,” the group said.