Posted at 5:00 am
(Klang, Malaysia) Some reports have criticized the use of forced labor in Malaysian factories that supply two-thirds of the world’s production of disposable gloves. On the ground, organizations trying to help migrant workers must deal with the existence of an ecosystem of criminal groups that exploit these vulnerable workers.
Labor activist Faiz Mazlan parked his small motorcycle in front of a glove factory and pulled out a pile of flyers. He looked steadily around him. He wanted to be ready at all times to quickly leave the Klang industrial park, near the Malaysian capital, because he was afraid of breaking his face.
Large corporations often have gangsters or thugs to protect management. On a motorcycle, it is easier to move fast.
Faiz Mazlan, labor activist
The 32-year-old activist works for the Migrant Resource Center of the Malaysian Trade Union Congress, the largest trade union federation in the country. He accepted that a group of The Press followed him to his work, on condition that he did not show his face, to avoid being recognized when he went out on the farm.
Faiz Mazlan has worked for many years as a representative for a supplier of spare parts to glove factories in Malaysia. During this work, he discovered the harsh living conditions of migrant workers who flock from Nepal, Bangladesh, Indonesia or Burma to work in the industry.
“I want to be with them. They come from far away and work hard. They need protection, “he said. That’s what prompted him to join the Migrant Resource Center, which helps workers exercise their rights and encourages them to join a union to improve their bargaining power. .He looks like a simple passerby or an itinerant salesman and mixes in the background.
Suddenly, as he was chatting with an employee, holding union flyers, an expensive car pulled up in front of the factory. A thick man got out of the car. Faiz Mazlan doesn’t have one or two. “Something is going to happen,” the activist said, before leaving.
Workers were forced to work for years to pay off loan sharking, forced to be locked up in their cramped dormitories, had their identity papers removed, beaten by their managers: several allegations of forced labor in factories Malaysian gloves have emerged in Canada to suspend contracts with a major supplier, while the United States has explicitly banned the import of gloves from a series of manufacturers since the pandemic began
Many Malaysian organizations trying to improve the situation of migrant workers tell how they have had problems with criminal groups around factories. Because there is an entire ecosystem of predators revolving around the poor workers of the disposable glove industry.
Adrian Pereira, founder of the NGO North South Initiative, an advocacy group for migrant workers based in Kuala Lumpur, can attest to this.
There are money lenders involved in recruitment and workers have to pay. There are organized, criminal gangs, gangsters that are there to control the workers. There are gangs selling alcohol around the dorms. We are already facing them!
Adrian Pereira, founder of the NGO North South Initiative
“Some workers are really scared,” he continued.
In Malaysia, local tabloids are fed up with frequent clashes between members of what police call the criminal “secret society” in Klang, the place where most of the world’s disposable glove production is concentrated. Last fall, a loan shark associated with one of the local criminal organizations was publicly killed by three machete-wielding assailants as he was walking out of a restaurant with his family.
Big names are involved
Big names are sometimes involved. In 2020, at the start of the pandemic, a Wan Kuok-Koi, aka Broken Tooth, described by the U.S. State Department as one of the leaders of the 14K triad, a powerful Chinese criminal organization, became chairman of the council. of a Malaysian firm involved in the manufacture of gloves. He left his position as the United States prepared to announce financial sanctions against him.
Last year, a former Malaysian deputy prime minister was charged with corruption for accepting bribes from a company accused of cheating Nepalese migrant workers who wanted to go and work in Malaysia.
The latest US State Department report on forced labor in Malaysia shows that “credible evidence” of human trafficking exists in the disposable glove industry and that organized crime groups are sometimes involved in recruitment and slavery. of migrant workers.
“Some agents in the source countries of labor impose heavy fees on workers before they arrive in Malaysia, and Malaysian agents add additional fees upon arrival, which in some cases leads to labor that forced under coercion through indebtedness, ”the document pointed out.
“Major crime syndicates are responsible for some trafficking cases,” the report said.
Where does the money go?
Rebecca Miller, regional anti-trafficking and migrant smuggling coordinator for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, pointed out that “informal networks” facilitate the entry of many migrant workers into Malaysia, often preventing workers from asserting their rights.
“Here, many enter the country irregularly and that makes them vulnerable to exploitation,” he said. In his meeting with The PressMako Miller had just completed a training session offered to a group of Malaysian immigration officials on migrant smuggling, with funding from Canada.
“One thing we’re trying to figure out is, how does this relate to transnational organized crime? It is difficult, because the investigation by the authorities here is focused on the softest target, ”she said.
Where does the money go? Very few investigations ascend to this level. Often the individual under the chain is the accused.
Rebecca Miller, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
The police shut up
The Royal Malaysian Police did not respond to a long series of questions sent as part of this report. In Kuala Lumpur, our team met with Deputy Superintendent Koh Teck Chew, Head of Forced Labor Investigations along with the Royal Malaysian Police, along with two of his investigators, to discuss the presence of criminal gangs intimidating migrant workers.
When the three men with our team were seated in their offices, the officer’s telephone rang. His face saddened as he listened to what was on the line.
“I’m sorry, we have to cancel the interview. You are not allowed here. You have to go, ”he said as he left.
This report was produced in part thanks to a grant from the Fonds québécois en journalisme international.