Malaysian MP speaks up on human slavery

There is a taste, a smell to freedom. You and I enjoy it. Many don’t. An estimated 20 to 27 million people are believed to live in slavery around the world. And many of these cases are happening in Malaysia. Lokesh Sapaliga, an Indian national’s horrifying experience in a Sarawak factory is the latest case of modern day slavery here. He managed to escape and secretly took pictures of the working and living conditions.

This story is shocking but it’s nothing new. Malaysia has an obligation to abide by the five out of eight core International Labor Organization’s conventions, which it has ratified. But prosecution for forced labour trafficking is rare. Between 2012 and August 2013, there were a total of 120 cases brought under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, but resulted only in 23 convictions.

The government has to ensure perpetrators are prosecuted and victims are not treated as offenders. Malaysia must stop further criminalising migrant workers. The government cares two hoots about the switching of employment contracts upon arrival and an estimated 90 per cent of local employers retain the passports of migrant workers.

These workers are afraid to report abuse or even request information concerning labor rights. Migrant workers who leave their employer due to abuse become undocumented workers, subject to deportation.

The International Labor Organisation estimates some $150 billion in profits are generated annually for private businesses from trafficking. And Malaysia seems to be playing a big role.

Frederick Douglas, a former slave and abolitionist leader, said, “No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.” This seems to be true in Malaysia’s case.”

The author is a Member of Parliament for Klang in Malaysia. This column was first printed in The Rakyat Post, and has been reprinted here with the permission of the author

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