“Samsung doesn’t know how to give. It only knows how to take.”
Migrant workers making goods for the global electronics brands claim they are trapped and exploited in Malaysia. Samsung and Panasonic, two of the world’s leading electronics brands, are facing allegations that workers in their supply chains are being duped, exploited and underpaid in Malaysia.
“Taking someone from Nepal and putting them in a factory in Malaysia costs money, and if these costs are not being factored into the price of a phone, or a microwave or a speaker, then they are complicit in a system that expects the workers to suffer as a result,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch in Asia.
Nepalese workers said they had been deceived about pay, had their passports confiscated and without their passports, the workers said they couldn’t freely leave their jobs and return home without paying fines equivalent to three or four months’ basic salary.They also claimed they were forced to work for up to 14 hours on their feet without adequate rest, and with restricted toilet breaks, in an attempt to settle recruitment fees of up to £1,000 – they said they had to pay this money to secure their jobs. They said they felt “cheated” and trapped in their factory jobs making or assembling components for household electrical goods sold on the global market.
In a factory in the capital, exhausted workers making parts for Panasonic spoke of having to work week after week of 14-hour shifts to try to repay the money they gave to recruitment agents in Nepal. Some said they were still far off paying their debts 15 months after arriving in Malaysia. One worker at a Samsung electronics plant making microwave ovens. “You get only 45 minutes in a 12-hour shift to eat, and seven minutes every two hours to drink water.” Another worker claimed they were only allowed to stop work to go to the toilet twice in a 12-hour shift.
Life beyond the assembly line is difficult too. In accommodation visited by the Guardian, workers were living in a grim hostel in an industrial area in Johor with 14 men crammed into one mouldy room. They all shared one broken toilet and two shower cubicles, which opened directly on to a cooking area with a single gas cooker.
The electronics sector in Malaysia, which accounts for nearly 35% of the country’s export economy, has faced international scrutiny for its treatment of migrant workers. In 2014 a report by supply chain watchdog Verité found that nearly one-third of workers in Malaysia’s electronics sector are in forced labour, and called for wide reforms of the policies of foreign companies operating there. There are an estimated 2.1 million documented migrant workers.