There are an estimated 212,000 people living in modern slavery in Malaysia (GSI 2018). The majority of those exploited are migrant and undocumented workers in the country. Foreign workers constitute more than 20 percent of the Malaysian workforce and typically migrate voluntarily—often illegally—to Malaysia from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Burma, Indonesia, the Philippines, and other Southeast Asian countries, mostly in pursuit of better economic opportunities. Some of these migrants are subjected to forced labour or debt bondage by their employers, employment agents, or informal labour recruiters when they are unable to pay the fees for recruitment and associated travel.
Srijan, a 28-year-old man who was working on a flower farm in the Cameron Highlands, compared what his agent had told him with what he found when he began work.
I paid 5,000 ringgit [$1,460] to an agent in Nepal to come to Malaysia. The agent said that when we came here, we wouldn’t have to work during the weekends. But here we work every day. The agent said the salary would be 750 ringgit [$220] per month. But here they give 600 ringgit or less [$175]. When we left from Nepal, the agent said that the levy for the permit would be 350 ringgit [$100] that would be cut from our salary. But here they cut 1,200 ringgit [$350].
I want to go back when my work permit is finished, but the employer keeps renewing it.
Narrative credit to Amnesty International
Originally published in ‘Trapped: The Exploitation of Migrant Workers in Malaysia’