There are an estimated 212,000 people living in modern slavery in Malaysia (GSI 2018). The majority of those exploited are migrant and undocumented workers in the country. Foreign workers constitute more than 20 percent of the Malaysian workforce and typically migrate voluntarily—often illegally—to Malaysia from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Burma, Indonesia, the Philippines, and other Southeast Asian countries, mostly in pursuit of better economic opportunities. Some of these migrants are subjected to forced labour or debt bondage by their employers, employment agents, or informal labour recruiters when they are unable to pay the fees for recruitment and associated travel.
Niaz, a 36-year-old Bangladeshi man, was promised work and a good wage in Malaysia by an agent. Upon arrival he was paid basic salary and did not know how he was ever going to get his money back.
In Bangladesh, the agent approached me. He said, ‘There is good work in Malaysia. You’ll get 18,000 to 20,000 taka,’” or $260 to $290, per month, he said. “When we arrived at the factory, the basic salary was 546 ringgit [$160], and there was a 34-ringgit [$10] allowance for rice.
I paid 230,000 taka [$3,325] to come to Malaysia. How am I ever going to get back that money?
What can I do with 480 ringgit? If I send money to Bangladesh, what can I do with that [the little amount that remains]?
Narrative credit to Amnesty International
Originally published in ‘Trapped: The Exploitation of Migrant Workers in Malaysia’