Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Modern-Day Slavery

This is a bizarre article about an investigation of what we would call modern day slavery across Asia. Cambodian recruitment agents target na├»ve girls from villages promising them lucrative jobs abroad. The agency then takes these desperate women to factories in Malaysia where they are forced to labor with very little pay. Women are detained at these factories and their passports are confiscated. They are not allowed to return or have any communication with their families unless families pay ransom money for their release. “In practice, the women are enslaved; debt bonded, far from home with no way to escape.”

When investigated, in a statement, the recruiting agency insisted: "Most workers willingly give their passports to their respective agents for safe-keeping, and they are able to obtain their passports at anytime upon their request.” In theory, the companies are required to hand over the passports upon request, but in practice, the employers are the ones who sign the exit visas, which means the workers can’t leave the country without permission and are stuck. The amazing part is, all of this is legal in Malaysia.

The women are part of a complex chain, recruited by the agency, employed by a middleman, who is owned and operated by a bigger company that sub-contracts the work.

People who own the recruitment agency are also relatives of the deputy prime minister of Cambodia. This is not a problem with just agencies in Cambodia, but a problem that involves higher authorities in the government. Desperate families have no way to seek justice as these women have signed contracts and other documents without knowledge of what they are going into. If they try to run away, they are arrested and returned to the factories by the police because they lack passports and proper documentation, all of which have been confiscated by the agency.

This brings an interesting issue to light. All of us can agree that we are appalled by the situation in Cambodia and Malaysia, but as consumers, do we care about the way the way our products are manufactured? For example, the computer accessories we own may very well be from debt-bonded labor. Will knowing such information stop us from using computers made in Malaysia? Of course not! We’re all talk when it comes to standing up for human rights, but when it comes to taking steps to reduce it, we’re not willing to go out of our comfort zone because it means we have to sacrifice a luxury that we feel we somehow deserve. As humans, we are inherently selfish and our attempts at improving someone else’s life only go so far. You and I are not willing to give up something that is dear to us to make a statement for someone else.


chartran said...

Nice job on challenging our inherent self-righteousness when it comes to human rights. We are all guilty of talking the talk and not always walking the walk. Often doing something practical is the hardest part, but it's the only thing that actually makes a difference.

Anonymous said...

A challenging post for sure. It forces us to face the reality of our selfishness. I suppose that can be the first step in making a change? Either way, great post!