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27 August 2019 | Ethical sourcing

Protecting migrant workers’ rights in Malaysia

Migrant workers play an important role in many economies, including New Zealand’s, but they are often vulnerable to unwitting or deliberate exploitation, on a spectrum from unpaid overtime to modern-day slavery. Along with members of the Responsible Business Alliance (RBA), The Warehouse is working with two of its leading Malaysian suppliers to implement a programme in global supply chains to protect migrant worker rights.

The RBA was founded in 2004 by a group of leading electronics companies, and today it is a non-profit comprised of more than 140 electronics, retail, auto and toy companies committed to supporting the rights and wellbeing of workers and communities worldwide.

Supported by a generous grant from the Walmart Foundation, the RBA Foundation and supporting program partner ELEVATE will implement the Responsible Workplace and Responsible Recruitment Programs, which aims to transform the market for ethical business practices and include workers directly in the development of effective solutions to persistent challenges.

Among the countries The Warehouse sources from, Malaysia has the highest number of foreign migrant workers and we have been working for some time with our supplier base there to identify vendors with a strong interest in working with us on this programme.

We were delighted when two of our Malaysian partners, Muda Paper Converting (our leading school stationery supplier) and Evergreen Fibreboard (a leading supplier of flat pack furniture), accepted our invitation to join the Responsible Workplace Programme, which is being implemented across several industries in Malaysia.

In addition to management and supervisor training, an important element of the programme is the anonymous baseline and follow-up surveys taken of the foreign migrant workforces in these enterprises. These are intended to provide deeper insight into migrants’ experiences during the recruitment process in their country of origin and once employed in Malaysia.

Human resource representatives from Muda and Evergreen tell us that the training has greatly enhanced communication with their migrant workers and the information from the survey will be carried forward into improvements in their recruitment practices. In an additional next step, the migrant worker recruitment agents employed by Muda and Evergreen will be participating in the parallel Responsible Recruitment Programme which is aimed at certifying best practice and eliminating the prospect of migrants being bonded to their workplaces via the payment of undisclosed and illegal recruitment fees.

The importance of the programme was underscored earlier this year at the 12 February Migrant Worker Welfare conference in Penang, attended by The Warehouse, when the Malaysian Minister of Human Resources Mr Kulasegaran declared “war on forced labour” in his keynote address and promised to overhaul and modernise the Malaysian law pertaining to the rights and recruitment of foreign workers.

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