PETALING JAYA: Two activists have poured cold water on Malaysia’s improved ranking in the US State Department’s latest human trafficking report, with one denouncing it as an “excessively political” decision.
Andy Hall, who champions the rights of migrant workers, said there has been no genuine effort by Putrajaya to ensure that various plans put in place to curb forced labour and human trafficking have been successfully implemented on the ground.
Hall referred specifically to the recent anti-human trafficking action plan, the national human rights action plan and the national forced labour action plan.
“For me these (action plans) are for the most part simply promises on paper. They are aspirational, but I do not see these aspirations and commitments made by the Malaysian government in recent years coming to fruition in practice,” he told FMT.
Hall said the recent upgrade did not reflect the realities on the ground as there were pressing issues which the new administration has yet to address.
These include exploitation and corruption in the foreign workers’ recruitment system, the increasing presence of bogus employers and abusive Malaysian manpower agents.
“This seems to be a political decision by the US,” he said, noting Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s close ties with Washington and the administration’s narrative that positive changes were on the way.
“(Such a decision) is concerning because it reduces the integrity and respect you give this kind of supposedly objective human trafficking ranking system,” he said.
Hall noted improvements to migrant workers’ rights at the industry and company level, with some companies taking measures to address issues their workers were facing, but said things appear to have gotten worse at the government and systemic levels.
“The administration has failed to improve the management of migrant workers, corruption seems to have worsened recently, and this has led to recruitment-related costs and fees doubling or tripling for the workers in some cases.”
Last Friday, Malaysia was moved back up to Tier 2 from Tier 3 on the US’ human trafficking watch list. Malaysia had been on Tier 2 between 2018 and 2020, but dropped to Tier 3, the lowest tier, in 2021.
Adrian Pereira of the North South Initiative (NSI) echoed Hall’s sentiments, adding that the impact of the ranking upgrade has not been felt on the ground where the situation is “still dire”.
“NSI recently exposed the matter of migrant workers brought with permits but who were not given actual jobs,” he told FMT, adding that there were several cases of workers being left stranded in the country without jobs after paying tens of thousands of ringgit to get here.
Pereira also criticised the way Putrajaya has dealt with job scams involving foreign workers.
“Why are they still being treated as perpetrators (of crime) and not as (victims)? They are not given a chance to seek justice.”
Pereira claimed the US government was “forced” to upgrade Malaysia’s ranking to avoid the country being placed on Tier 3 for the third consecutive year, which would have attracted sanctions.
Such sanctions would have prevented US aid from reaching Malaysia, he said.
“There are huge projects in Malaysia that the US government has invested in and (the US government) will be forced to stop it.”