University of Nottingham Malaysia’s PHIR to follow-up capacity-building efforts by monitoring improvement in practices among plantation and manufacturing players
The University of Nottingham Malaysia (UNM) through the School of Politics, History and International Relations (PHIR) has engaged over 175 organisations with an outreach of 402 participants in capacity-building sessions over the past four months to enhance the competency of internal and third-party auditors in detecting and reporting incidences of forced labour in Malaysia. The effort was in direct response to Malaysia being downgraded to Tier 3 in the 2021 Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Report by the US State Department, and the pressing need to improve conditions and labour standards for workers in Malaysia.
“Addressing the issue of Trafficking In Persons requires a multidimensional approach. Our capacity building training sessions demonstrate the value academia brings in advancing Malaysia in the area of improved labour standards. We are grateful to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, UK for funding our efforts; and for the cooperation from industry associations such as MARGMA and Government agencies including NSO MAPO, MPOCC, MSPO as well as participating plantation and manufacturing companies in recognising the issue at hand and the openness to collectively work towards positive change,” said University of Nottingham Malaysia, Interim Provost and CEO Professor Sarah Metcalfe.
The most pressing TIP problem is forced labour in the manufacturing and oil palm industry, in which migrant workers are forced into exploitative work conditions which limits their freedom, health, safety and dignity. Forced labour entails the retention of identity documents or passports, payment of excessive recruitment fees – which can lead to debt bondage, contract substitution as well as poor pay and work conditions such as involuntary overtime and lack of freedom of workers to resign. Often there is no labour policy to inform workers of their labour rights in appropriate language.
Forced labour is most prevalent in the Asia-Pacific region which accounts for 62% of total cases worldwide. Forced labour in Malaysia mirrors this trend. With a population of 32.7 million people, Malaysia has an estimated 3.1 million non-citizens who were legally residing in Malaysia in 2020. According to Council for Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants (MAPO) figures for 2014, undocumented migrant workers outnumber legally employed migrant workers by about one-and-a-half times.
His Excellency Charles Hay, British High Commissioner to Malaysia, has written recently in the Malaysian press about the need to address forced labour issues. Speaking at the closing ceremony of the “Enhancement of Manufacturing and Oil Palm Third Party Audits Compliance and Due Diligence with Certification Bodies” Project, he also welcomed Malaysia’s intention to address the forced labour issue.
“There are serious issues Malaysia needs to address in the field of labour rights. What is heartening for me is that we’ve seen such a clear response from the Malaysian Government and Malaysian businesses. They have recognised the scale of the problem and understand that these issues need addressing. The UK is ready and willing to provide support to Malaysia on this journey. And we were proud to support the excellent work the University of Nottingham Malaysia has done, in conjunction with government, civil society and industry partners.”
Marking the conclusion of the project, UNM hosted a multi-stakeholder panel discussion including representatives from MPIC, MPOCC, International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) among others. Key take aways from the discussion put a spotlight on what further efforts can be taken to enhance multistakeholder cooperation in tackling forced labour in Malaysia.
Optimising its engagement with industry players during the four-month capacity-building sessions, the PHIR project team conducted primary data collection on the quality of forced labour audit reports in the manufacturing and oil palm industry.
“We look forward to seeing some positive operational changes by the participating companies. Tackling Trafficking in Persons and forced labour is a process and we are committed to play our role in supporting Malaysia’s progress in this area. UNM’s established strength in research offers critical perspective into the heart of the Trafficking in Persons issue and enables parties in the ecosystem to formulate solutions that are supported by data. This is our vision for the next phase of our efforts which will be a joint project on decent work, which includes elements of forced labour with the International Labour Organization (ILO), a United Nation’s agency,” said Project Lead from UNM School of Politics, History and International Relations (PHIR), Assistant Professor Dr Karma Tashi Choedron.
Participant of the capacity-building initiative, Denis Low, Director for Corporate Affairs at Supermax Corporation Berhad said, "While Supermax has taken and will continue to take every measure to ensure there are no instances of forced labour or workers rights violations at any of our sites, we cannot underestimate the positive impact these trainings have had, it is a mind-opening experience.”
He added, “It is vital for those on the ground to be able to identify and rectify any action that can be understood as violating rules governing workers’ rights and the training sessions, handled by knowledgeable professionals have helped us understand some of the issues and how best to deal with them. Working and debating together in this holistic way has helped build capacity with confidence and we do hope our efforts in training our managers will continue to enhance our standards and compliance, ensuring the best conditions for the industry workforce.”
The “Enhancement of Manufacturing and Oil Palm Third-Party Audits Compliance and Due Diligence with Certification Bodies” capacity-building project led by UNM’s School of PHIR runs from 30 August 2021 to 28 February 2022. The project is funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, UK and was supported by the National Strategic Office Council for Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants (NSO MAPO), Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities (MPIC), Ministry of Human Resources (MOHR), Malaysian Rubber Glove Manufacturers Association (MARGMA), Malaysian Palm Oil Certification Council (MPOCC), Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO), and Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).
(Article and thumbnail photo caption: UNM hosted a multi-stakeholder panel discussion with representatives from MPIC, MPOCC, International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), among others, to discuss further efforts to enhance multi-stakeholder cooperation in tackling forced labour in Malaysia. (From left): MARGMA President, Dr Supramaniam Shanmugam; Supermax Corporation Berhad Director, Denis Low; Project Lead from UNM School of Politics, History and International Relations (PHIR), Assistant Professor Dr Karma Tashi Choedron; Control Union Sdn Bhd General Manager, Supun Sachitra Nigamuni and Biz Excellence Systems Sdn Bhd Managing Director, Amargit Singh.)
For media enquiries please contact: Josephine Dionisappu, PR and Communications Manager University of Nottingham Malaysia at email@example.com or Dr Julia Roknifard, Assistant Professor, School of Politics, History and International Relations (PHIR) University of Nottingham Malaysia at Julia.Roknifard@nottingham.edu.my
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Posted on 28th February 2022