The rising awareness amongst brands, end-users and workers notwithstanding, news of labour abuse keeps emerging from various manufacturing destinations from time to time. One such development to hit the headlines recently has been that of alleged abuse of workers employed in some Malaysian garment factories that supply to a host of globally renowned names.
A report released by Transparentem (a non-profit organisation dedicated to investigating apparel supply chain ethics), unveiled multiple violations of workers’ rights in five garment manufacturing factories that supply to well-known Western brands like Nike, Global Brands Group (which creates licensed products for the likes of Calvin Klein and Juicy Couture), Asics, Under Armour, Target, Fruit of the Loom, Primark, Brooks, etc.
The investigation carried out over a period of 18 months by Transparentem uncovered many such issues including migrant workers from countries like Cambodia, Philippines and Sri Lanka being charged “recruitment fees” to secure their jobs, which can range from US $ 745 to US $ 4,356.
Some other issues that the investigation touched upon include verbal abuse and the use of physical force by managers and overcrowded living conditions.
The report maintained that the underpay and excessive recruitment fees are compounded by disciplinary fines, wherein factory workers might see deductions in their pay checks if machinery breaks while they’re using it, if they don’t hit production targets or if they make mistakes in their work. For some, these can pile up to essentially land them in debt bondage, where they end up owing their employer more than their employer owes them, forcing them to keep working even if they’d like to leave.
“The bed they gave us when we went there – after a couple of months we all had to throw it out, so many bedbugs. After we threw out our beds, we would throw a bed sheet on the floor and sleep there,” said a worker to Transparentem, adding, “The glass in the windows was all broken. When it rained, water would come inside our room…”