NON-profit organisation Verité says nearly one in three foreign migrant workers in the Malaysian electronics industry are working on conditions of forced labour.
Verité interviewed more than 500 male and female workers across all major production regions, electronic products and foreign worker nationalities. It also surveyed Malaysian nationals. According to the subsequent report, forced labour is a widespread issue in the Malaysian electronics industry.
Verité says the increasing amount of electronics being produced in Malaysia means that many electronics products that are reaching consumers in developed countries like Australia and the US may be produced using forced labour.
There are concerns that Australian electronics design firms may also be contracting work out to manufacturers in Malaysia who use forced labour.
"Verité's study is the most comprehensive look at forced labour in the Malaysian electronics sector to date," Dan Viederman, CEO of Verité said. "Our report provides a clear sense of the scope of the problem in the industry, as well as the root causes underlying this egregious form of abuse, which center on unlawful and unethical recruitment practices."
According to the study, electronics manufacturers in Malaysia rely hugely on third-party agents to recruit, manage and employ foreign workers. This limits worker protections and blurs accountability for labour conditions.
The report found that agents and employers unlawfully retained the passports of foreign workers, charged high and hidden recruitment fees to trap workers in debt and in their jobs, deceived workers during recruitment, prevented the free movement of workers, provided poor living conditions, levelled fines and penalties that prevented resignation, and provided inadequate legal protections.
Verité has urged governments, multi-national companies, as well as Malaysian society itself to act to increase the transparency into the recruitment process for workers, and seek to end practices like recruitment debts and passport retention.