27th May 2024: Statement by Andy Hall, Independent Migrant Worker Rights Specialist, on today’s public release of UN OHCHR’s unanswered urgent appeal communications to the Malaysian and Bangladeshi Government 

public release of UN OHCHR’s unanswered urgent appeal communications to the Malaysian and Bangladeshi Government 

27th May 2024: For Immediate Release – Statement by Andy Hall, Independent Migrant Worker Rights Specialist, on today’s public release of UN OHCHR’s unanswered urgent appeal communications to the Malaysian and Bangladeshi Government 

The United Nations (UN) Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva (OHCHR) has today published in full its unanswered urgent appeal communications sent to origin (Bangladesh) and destination (Malaysian) governments regarding exploited and duped Bangladeshi workers in Malaysia who are alleged to be victims of labour trafficking perpetrated by criminal syndicates. 

Available at: HERE

This set of confidential communications had previously been sent to both Bangladeshi and Malaysian governments by a number of independent UN human rights experts on 28th March 2024. 

The communications were written jointly by the Mandates of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences; the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises; the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants and human rights and the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children. 

Yet today, after 60 days since these confidential communications to the Bangladeshi and Malaysian governments were sent, no response has been received by the UN OHCHR from either government, despite the worsening destitution and abuse faced by stranded Bangladeshi workers in Malaysia at this time. 

The urgent issues raised by the UN experts with the Bangladeshi and Malaysian governments outlined in these communications concern an alleged criminal syndicate that has since mid 2022 trafficked hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi workers for forced labour in Malaysia, many of whom remain stranded without work until today.

These workers have been recruited on false promises of jobs and charged exorbitant fees and costs. These cases involve: violations to the physical safety and security of the workers; passport retention and ransom taking; deplorable living conditions; unpaid wages; and debt bondage resulting from extortionate recruitment related costs extracted involving cross border financial crimes, bribery and corruption.

Following submission of complaints by myself and civil society activists, and after much media publicity, no effective action has been taken by either the Bangladeshi and Malaysian governments to: protect and assist victims; remediate their suffering; or to hold employers, recruitment intermediaries or government officials who authorised and were complicit in this alleged criminal and corrupt trafficking and forced labour syndicate accountable.

In April 2024, following twelve months of widespread reporting of this situation and the sending of the March 28th 2024 set of confidential communications, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) raised similar concerns in a public statement. 

In May 2024, in an exclusive statement issued to FMT news portal, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) likewise raised similar concerns for Bangladeshi migrant workers in Malaysia and pledged support to the Government to address this crisis.

In the joint statement, IOM, ILO and UNODC highlighted Malaysia had ratified the Protocol of 2014 to the ILO Forced Labour Convention, 1930, thereby renewing its commitment to fight against forced labour in all its forms, including trafficking in persons and debt bondage, and to ensure workers have access to justice and effective legal remedies.

Earlier last week, the former UN Special Rapporteur for human trafficking also reiterated that migrant workers’ vulnerability to trafficking through debt-based coercion indiscriminately raises the cost of migration exponentially.

Media reports on 10th May 2024 outline the first seemingly public reaction by Malaysia to this international condemnation. The Minister of Human Resources, Steven Sim, announced the Labour Department would set up a special unit handling migrant workers’ grievances, without specifying any details or a timeline. As with previous lack of engagement and response, this proposal, whilst welcome, is woefully inadequate.

Examples of ongoing abuses 

In late 2023 and early 2024 when 171 of more than 700 Bangladeshi workers who were left stranded without jobs in Pengerang attempted to lodge complaints, they were arrested and detained. They then lodged claims before the labour department for their employer’s breach of contract to supply work and wages under conditions indicating forced labour.

Although the Malaysian Home and Human Resource Ministers both decried the practice of trading in migrant workers and agreed on new standard operating procedures (SOPs) for dealing with errant employers, systemic foot-dragging has left the workers without an effective remedy. 

In what the government described  as a ‘landmark case,’ the companies involved agreed to pay half of a negotiated compensation settlement by March 21st 2024 and promised to secure jobs for all the workers. Whilst some of these workers have indeed finally secured jobs, many are being poorly paid and compensation has not been forthcoming. Most of these workers remain in situations akin to acute modern slavery.

Likewise 93 Bangladeshi workers left stranded without jobs in Cheras and in destitution employed under the Ricoler Construction Company were rescued by Malaysia’s immigration and anti-trafficking agencies and granted interim protection by a magistrate. The workers were taken to the only Malaysian government shelter for victims of human trafficking in Melaka. Government ministers said in a joint press statement that the employer could face charges under for (i) failing to house workers (ii) pay them wages and additionally be probed for breaching anti-trafficking and anti-smuggling laws. 

21 days later, the workers were simply released from their involuntary retention into the custody of the employer and remain in situations of deprivation and suffering. Most remain unemployed and destitute until this day.

When several workers in March 2024 recently sought to challenge their abusive situation in the Beaks case, both workers and PSM, the support organisation assisting them on the ground, became the target of alleged physical abuse and SLAPP litigation. Again, most of the victims in this case, despite the Minister’s claims to address their plight, remain destitute and unemployed.

These cases are amongst those raised in the OHCHR communications with the Bangladeshi and Malaysian Governments, none of which have been responsed to.   

Questions over Government Inaction

Andy Hall, independent migrant worker rights specialist, today said in response to the release of the OHCHR communications: ‘The failure of the Bangladeshi and  Malaysian governments to respond to UN OHCHR within the 60 days established timeline is purely symptomatic of the lack of rule of law, ingrained impunity and systemic corruption surrounding these migrant worker issues in both countries. Both governments simply cannot respond in any meaningful way to UN agencies, including OHCHR, ILO, IOM and UNODC, as any response at this stage is unlikely to be justifiable or to make much sense. This leaves open the inference that both governments endorse the continually unbroken link between publicly funded government ministries in both countries and transnational organised crime syndicates trafficking migrant workers for forced labour.’

Hall continued: ‘There is no defense for both governments to claim in relation to the grave human rights violations that we see 100,000s of Bangladeshi workers continuing to suffer in Malaysia. After over a decade since enacting laws to combat labour trafficking in Malaysia in particular, administrative loopholes continue to be extended to private interests with the resources to influence public agencies. The Malaysian Government’s lack of transparency as to investigations, detention and prosecutions of culpable actors and inaction leave open the inference  that the government endorses the phenomenon of human trafficking. This is why I recently called for the Malaysian government to be downgraded to the lowest level, Tier 3, in the upcoming U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report 2024.’

Hall finally added: ‘Based on many years of unsuccessfully engaging the Malaysian government on these and many other similar cases of alleged human trafficking and forced labour, I conclude that a failed migrant work management and recruitment system continues to exist in the country that promotes impunity, is devoid of the rule of law and is systemically corrupt. There is little to no accountability for this dire situation, and no remediation at all of its victims.’

Simultaneously, the export overseas of Malaysian goods made using foreign workers in situations of alleged forced labour and human trafficking is negatively impacting Malaysia as trading partners reject these goods. There have been 8 recent bans between 2019 and 2024 on export of goods from Malaysia to the U.S. by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Department (CBP).

For more information on this statement contact Andy Hall on WhatsApp +9779823486634, email andy@andyjhall.org, Twitter @atomicalandy and blog www.andyjhall.org

Background Reading:

Channel News Asia 25th May 2024: Malaysia’s bid to revamp hiring of foreign workers through controversial BESTINET process faces pushback; activists say country’s reputation at stake

22nd May 2024: UN expert – Malaysian law enforcement mixing up human trafficking, migrant smuggling – “What steps has Malaysia taken to investigate alleged complicity of public officials in human trafficking?’’

20th May 2024 FMT: Duped Bangladeshi workers won’t impact Malaysia’s US Human trafficking report ranking, says HR Minister Sim

Malay Mail 17th May 2024: Pengerang employer to face Labour Court in Malaysia after failing for months to pay Bangladeshi workers’ wages over RM1m (government statements and my comments included – months on, court agreed mediation settlement unforced, workers allegedly remain in situation akin to acute modern slavery)

16th May 2024: Firm that left over 700 Bangladeshi workers to dry in Pengerang facing possible prosecution (months on, court agreed mediation settlement unforced, workers allegedly remain in situation akin to acute modern slavery)

14th May 2024: FMT – Activists warn of US trafficking report downgrade for Malaysia amid UN criticism

May 10th 2024 The Star: Malaysian Government responds to OHCHR, IOM, ILO and UNODC joint condemnation on alleged Bangaldeshi migrant worker criminal syndicate by pledging to set up special unit handling migrant workers’ grievances, says HR Minister Sim

9th May 2024: Study: 96% of Bangladeshi workers going to Malaysia fall into recruitment debt– The study also said that 82% had two or more loans and 73% of workers spent at least 50% to 100% of their monthly salary to repay recruitment debts

4th May 2024: UN agencies concerned over Bangladeshi workers stranded in Malaysia – Joint Statement of ILO, IOM and UNODC on Alleged Criminal Syndicate Trafficking Bangladeshi Workers for Forced Labour in Malaysia

24th April 2024: Address plight of duped Bangladeshi migrant workers in Malaysia in response to UN warning, govt told (more on the ongoing saga of an alleged criminal syndicate trafficking Bangladeshi migrant workers for forced labour in Malaysia)

19th April 2024: UN (OHCHR) Statement on Alleged Criminal Syndicate Trafficking Bangladeshi Workers for Forced Labour in Malaysia – ‘Malaysia: Bangladeshi workers must be protected from exploitation and criminalisation, say UN experts’

FMT 19th April 2024: UN experts sound alarm over plight of duped Bangladeshi migrants in Malaysia

For more on Andy Hall’s complaint to the OHCHR see 30th Oct 2023: FMT: Andy Hall refers stranded Bangladeshi workers’ plight in Malaysia to UN Human Rights Council

See Daily Star 23rd Apr 2024: Bangladesh Plight of Migrant Workers – Bangladesh, Malaysia working group meeting likely in May

See Daily Star Editorial 23rd Apr 2024: When even legal migrants suffer – Workers migrating to Malaysia legally deserve better protection 

Business Standard 23rd April 2024: Expat Ministry reviews UN complaints on Bangladeshi workers in Malaysia

Prothomalo 23rd April 2024: Bangladesh – Ministry reviewing allegations over Malaysia labour market

BenarNews Malay Language: Pakar PBB gesa Malaysia tangani layanan buruk diterima pekerja Bangladesh (UN expert urges Malaysia to handle bad treatment received by Bangladeshi workers)

Daily Star 19th Apr 2024: UN experts express dismay over situation of Bangladeshi migrants in Malaysia

FMT 19th Apr 2024: PSM, news portal set aside order to stop debate on migrant workers’ plight

Daily Star Editorial 17th April 2024: Save our migrants in Malaysia (more on the crisis caused by an alleged criminal syndicate trafficking Bangladeshi workers for forced labour in Malaysia)

9th April 2024 The Star – Bangladeshi victims of criminal syndicate trafficking worked for forced labour in Malaysia: ‘Cops after workers, not rogue employers

7th April 2024: SCMP – As Malaysia’s door closes on low-paid migrant workers, companies scramble for staff (and a systemically corrupt migration management and recruitment policy, devoid of the rule of law and leading to impunity and gross exploitation, is revealed)

6th April 2024 Daily Star: A hostel of nightmares for Bangladeshi migrants allegedly trafficked by criminal syndicate for forced labour in Malaysia (and Daily Star Op Ed)

Daily Star Editorial 6th Apr 2024: What will happen to migrants abandoned in Malaysia?

26th March 2024: The Star – Freeze on foreign workers hiring quota in Malaysia stays for now, says HR Minister (with estimated 200,000+ surplus foreign workforce victims facing destitution and abuse)

25th March 2024: Bangladeshi workers (alleged victims of criminal syndicate trafficking Bangladeshi workers for forced labour in Malaysia) claim being coerced into withdrawing police and labour complaints

Daily Star 25th Mar: Malaysia employer framed Bangladeshi workers

Daily Star 24th Mar 2024: Jailed in Malaysia – 3 Bangladesh workers released

Editorial Prothomalo 24th Mar 2024: Malaysian labour market – Take action against the fraud syndicate

FMT 23rd March 2024: PSM calls on Sim to look into arrest of Bangladeshi workers

MALAYSIAKINI 23 Mar 2024: Stranded foreign workers (alleged victims of criminal syndicate trafficking Bangladeshi workers for forced labour in Malaysia) nabbed after labour complaints against employer

23rd March 2024 The Star: Half a million vulnerable and irregular foreign workers disappear from Malaysia’s migrant worker regularization programme as deadline looms in one week

23 Mar 2024 The Star: Verification rate lags as RTK 2.0 deadline approaches

22nd March 2024 Malay Mail: Home minister – Over RM9m in fines collected so far through migrant repatriation programme

22nd March 2024 Protomalo: Malaysian labour market set to be closed again due to syndication

20th March 2024: 93 duped/detained Bangladeshi migrant workers in Malaysia have jobs now, says immigration DG

20th Mar 2024 Business Standard: Bangladeshi workers’ plight in Malaysia: Coalition of migration orgs demand action against recruiting agency syndicate

19th March 2024: FMT – Plantation firms wary of ‘forced labour’ concerns in hiring 200,000 surplus foreign workers/criminal syndicate victims in Malaysia, says minister – indeed he’s right, who wants to take on destitute foreign workers often with US$4-7000 in debt?

17th March 2024: FMT – Malaysia’s treatment of migrant workers utterly shameful

New Age 16th Mar 2024: Bangladeshi government must mend issues to keep Malaysia job market open

15th March 2024 SCMP: Malaysians deride minister’s idea to rebrand palm oil workers as ‘specialised harvesters’

14th March 2024: The Star – Opinion: When work in Malaysia is a con – the criminal syndicate trafficking Bangladeshis for forced labour in Malaysia

FMT 13th March 2024: Bangladeshi migrants file police reports after falling victim to job scam/criminal syndicate trafficking workers from Bangladesh for forced labour in Malaysia

12th March 2024: SCMP – Malaysia to slash migrant workforce amid intolerance, job scam crisis involving Bangladeshi labourers

FMT 11th Mar 2024: Duped migrant jobseekers, victims of alleged criminal syndicate trafficking Bangaldeshi workers to Malaysia for forced labour, face mental health issues, says Malaysian ex-MP

Daily Star Editorial 10th March 2024: Migrating to a life of unemployment

Daily Star 10th Mar 2024: Distressed in Malaysia – Thousands of Bangladeshi migrants jobless, unpaid or underpaid 

9th March 2024: Malay Mail – Activists warn rushed 31st March visa deadline in Malaysia could force firms to source foreign workers unethically (includes my commentary on the abrupt policy change)

9th Mar 2024 The Star: No extension of May 31 foreign worker deadline

NST 9th Mar 2024: Keep recruitment agencies in a list rather than shutting them down, govt told   

See also NST 9th Mar 2024: Sourcing migrant workers takes time, ‘not like buying cattle’, employer groups tell govt

NST 8th Mar 2024: Eliminate middlemen from migrant worker recruitment process, govt told

Star 8th Mar 2024: May 31 deadline for foreign workers recruitment under recalibration programme remains, says Saifuddin

Malay Mail 8th Mar 2024: Saifuddin Nasution: No more agents for Bangladeshi worker recruitment

6th Mar 2024: Malaysian government halts foreign worker entry into the country from 31st May 2024 (final calling visa/VDN approval issuance deadline 31st March 2024) as migrant worker management crisis worsens and victims of gross exploitation, unemployment and destitution rise significantly

6th March 2024: Business Times –Sudden change in foreign worker policy by Malaysian government leaves industry in limbo

6th Mar 2024 Edge: Foreign worker intake deadline changes will leave manufacturers in the lurch, says FMM

6th Mar 2024 FMT: Industry players shocked by foreign worker policy change, says FMM

Mar 5 2024: NCCIM urges govt to review unused foreign worker quota deadline

4th March 2024 URGENT call for donations/support: joining forces with HOPE SELANGOR to fill gap in providing humanitarian aid and assistance to victims of criminal syndicate trafficking Bangladeshi workers into forced labour in Malaysia

Mar 3rd 2024: Concern on repatriation of potential trafficking and forced labour/abuse victims under Malaysian Migrant Worker Repatriation Programme Commencing 1st March 2024 (Statement by Andy Hall, Independent Migrant Worker Rights Specialist)

FMT 3rd Mar 2024: Ensure ‘crooks’ do not gain from repatriation programme, says activist

Mar 2nd 2024 The Star: A chance for illegals to go home

Mar 2nd 2024 The Star: Sarawak immigration extends RTK2.0 until June

Mar 1st 2024 FMT: 600,000 foreign workers urged to take easy exit home

Mar 1st 2024 The Star: Use repatriation programme to return home, 600,000 illegals told

Feb 28th 2024 The Star: New programme lets migrants off the hook without being prosecuted

Feb 25th 2024 The Star: Businesses want foreign worker hiring freeze lifted

Jan 31st 2024 NST: Govt to implement Migrant Repatriation Programme starting March

Jan 31st 2024 The Edge: Cabinet agrees to extend freeze on hiring of foreign workers, says home minister 

31st Jan 2024 FMT: Migrant repatriation programme set for March 1

31st Jan 2024 The Star: Migration Repatriation Programme to commence on March 1, says Home Ministry

FMT 6th Jan 2024: 171 duped migrant workers deserve compensation, govt told (includes my full statement)

5th Jan 2024: New Strait Times – MCA: Don’t just fine employers, hold ministry accountable as well for unemployed foreign workers

FMT 30th Dec 2023: Migrants being duped into Malaysia because of govt’s failure to curb criminal trafficking syndicates and organised crime network, says activist Andy Hall

30th Dec 2023: New Strait Times – Recruitment agencies accused of deception as Bangladeshi victims speak out on exploitation and fear

29th Dec 2023: Malay Mail – Set up probe on exploitation of migrant workers and new ministry to manage their affairs, Suhakam tells Putrajaya

28th Dec 2023: FMT – Malaysia has entered ‘slave labour’ territory, says ex-MP – Charles Santiago calls for specific set-ups to manage migrant workers 

27th Dec 2023: New Strait Times – MTUC demand govt, MACC probe into corrupt recruitment practices of foreign workers

26th Dec 2023: FMT – High recruitment fees make greedy agents bring in workers, says group

25th Dec 2023: FMT – Probe recruitment agents, MACC told after arrest of Bangladeshis

22nd Nov 2023: MALAYSIAKINI – Full probe of migrant worker syndicate, Malaysian HR Minister Sivakumar says

9th Nov 2023: Malaysia – The State of the Nation: Flaws of foreign worker system laid bare in declassified report

30th Oct 2023: FMT: Andy Hall refers stranded Bangladeshi workers’ plight in Malaysia to UN Human Rights Council

23rd Oct 2023: RESPONSE FROM THE MINISTRY OF HUMAN RESOURCES IN REGARDS TO AN ARTICLE BY MR. ANDY HALL/HR Minister – strict actions against employers who fail to comply with Malaysia’s labour and immigration laws

20th Oct 2023 Malaysiakini: Long-awaited foreign worker management report declassified in Malaysia (my comments added)

19th Oct 2023: Malaysia facing huge excess of 1/4 million migrant laborers

21st Sep 2023: Malaysian government has 15 source countries for foreign workers – Comments by Andy Hall

20th Sep 2023: Rate of abused Bangladeshi workers’ entry into Malaysia worrying, says migrant rights activist Andy Hall

12th July 2023: excellent final offering from a 4 part account of atypical modern-day slavery, forced labour and abuse perpetrated against a group of migrant workers from Bangladesh in Malaysia, written concisely and passionately by former MP from Malaysia Charles Santiago

Aljazeera News TV 10th July 2023 – Migrants in Malaysia: Hundreds left stranded in recruitment scam

Reuters 11th Apr 2023: In Malaysia, migrants say they are in limbo after promised jobs fall through

25th April 2023 Sarawak Post: Malaysia And Modern Slavery – ‘PM Must Take Control’

23rd April 2023: REUTERS: Malaysia probes cases of migrant workers left jobless, without passports (with background summary and articles included in my blog post)

17th April 2023 Daily Star: Approval For Labour Recruitment – Malaysia’s transparency questioned by Bangladesh

FMT 13th April 2023: Stranded Bangladeshis endure ‘hell’ in Malaysia – The group of 35 now wants to go home after being left without jobs for months

11th Mar 2023 MALAYSIAKINI: Malaysian HR Minister Sivakumar – Zero checks for migrant quota approvals only until March 2023

13th Feb 2023: My Perspective published by FMT – ‘Time to address corruption in Malaysia’s migrant worker management’

10th Jan 2023: ‘Bangladeshi recruitment cartels’ grip must end’ – Govt now acting on billion-ringgit ‘human trafficking syndicates’

1st Oct 2022 Malay Mail: PM Anwar says Putrajaya to Ease Rules on Hiring Migrant Workers

7th July 2022 The Vibes: How Bestinet courted controversy over migrant worker recruitment – MACC’s raid on IT company once again casts spotlight on alleged hiring monopoly

June 2022 The Star: Human Traffickers made RM2 billion through syndicate smuggling in over 100,000 workers from Bangladesh

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