Dyson to fight lawsuit alleging use of forced labour at Malaysian supplier’s factory
Tech company insists ex-contractor is responsible for any abuses following concerning audit
10 October 2022 • 6:53pm
Dyson has vowed to fight an “opportunistic” lawsuit alleging that the company knowingly used forced labour at a factory in Malaysia.
A High Court claim by 24 Bangladeshi and Nepalese migrants who worked for one of the company’s ex-contractors seeks compensation for alleged negligence, false imprisonment and “unjust enrichment”.
It said the workers were victims of forced labour and other exploitative practices while making parts for Dyson vacuums and air purifiers at the factory run by ATA IMS in the city Johor Bahru.
Dyson says it dropped ATA as a contractor soon after audits of the factory raised serious concerns about working conditions and the company failed to adequately address them.
The company, which is privately owned by billionaire Sir James Dyson, terminated its supplier deal with ATA in November 2021, one month after it had received the audit findings.
Sir Dyson’s company created 900 new jobs in the UK after seeing £1.5bn in profit CREDIT: Christopher Pledger
Separately, Dyson hired lawyers to investigate allegations of “unacceptable” actions by ATA staff which it had learned about in September that year.
It says the workers’ lawsuit, brought on their behalf by City law firm Leigh Day, should be directed towards their former Malaysian employer instead.
However, lawyers at Leigh Day claim UK-based staff at Dyson were made aware of concerns about conditions at the factory as far back as August 2019.
They allege a British human rights activist, Andy Hall, had received information and photographs from a worker seeking to blow the whistle and had “expressly warned” Dyson.
In a series of emails to the vacuum maker, Mr Hall claimed to have evidence that ATA workers faced demands for recruitment fees from the agencies who hired them, putting them into “debt bondage”, according to the High Court claim.
The debt was extracted through forced labour and the illegal deduction of sums from their wages, while they were housed in dirty and overcrowded accommodation.
Leigh Day says the minimum daily shift for workers was 12 hours but they were forced to work overtime with shifts as long as 18 hours, in breach of Malaysian law.
ATA’s factory in Johor Bahru was one kilometre from Dyson Malaysia’s office and so “representatives were able to and did in fact regularly visit and observe the conditions at the factory”, the claim adds.
Mr Hall has allegedly received information and photographs from an ATA worker seeking to blow the whistle CREDIT: Sakchai Lalit/AP
But a Dyson spokesperson said: “This opportunistic claim by Leigh Day, on behalf of 24 of ATA’s employees, should be brought against their employer, ATA, in Malaysia and against its Malaysian managers who are named in the claim as the perpetrators.
“ATA, the employer of the 24 workers, is a substantial company, publicly listed in Malaysia, operating under the supervision of its management, and under the control of its majority shareholders on its Board.
“ATA manufactures products for a variety of brands in its Malaysian factories, not just Dyson.
“Having been left with no alternative, Dyson terminated its contract with ATA in November 2021.
“This is the ultimate sanction that any business has over a third-party supplier even though that action may regrettably jeopardise thousands of jobs in Malaysia.”
In separate developments, Malaysian authorities charged ATA with four violations of labour law related to the worker accommodation and were investigating complaints of forced labour, Reuters previously reported.
ATA has claimed all overtime was voluntary and that it paid higher wages on Sundays and public holidays.
Police also launched an investigation into claims one of the company’s former workers was beaten after being taken into custody.
The worker was reportedly questioned about sharing information on working conditions with activists, however ATA has dismissed the account as “unlikely to have taken place”.