PETALING JAYA: The London High Court is set to hear claims by migrant workers of forced labour and dangerous working conditions at a factory in Johor which manufactures components for Dyson electrical goods next week.
Leigh Day, a law firm representing 23 Nepali and Bangladeshi workers, said the claims against the British appliance maker also include allegations of false imprisonment at its contractor’s factory in Johor.
Scheduled to run from July 17 to 19, the case will also hear claims by the workers of assault, battery, cruel and degrading treatment, exposure to extremely hazardous working conditions, and abusive living conditions.
Dyson terminated various contracts with the factory since 2021, citing alleged forced labour and worker mistreatment.
The factory produces components for Dyson vacuum cleaners, lighting, haircare equipment, heaters and fans.
The individuals are said to have worked at the factory for between three and nine years.
The civil negligence claim is being brought against three companies within the Dyson Group – Dyson Technology Limited and Dyson Limited, both based in Malmesbury, England, and Dyson Malaysia, located in Johor Bahru.
The workers said they paid the equivalent of several months’ wages to recruitment agents working for the factory.
In exchange, they were provided with visas and flown into Malaysia to work, allegedly finding themselves in debt bondage and paid below minimum wage, sometimes earning less than US$10 (RM46) a day.
Many say they were forced to resort to borrowing money from loan sharks, exacerbating their debts and vulnerability.
They allege that their passports were retained for the duration of their employment, making it impossible to find other work, and so were trapped into working at the factory.
The minimum daily shift for the claimants was 12 hours long, but they allege that they were forced to work overtime, with daily shifts lasting up to 18 hours without a break. They also allege that they were refused annual leave.
The workers say their work visas were allowed to lapse, resulting in them being in the country illegally. As a result, they claim to have been living in constant fear of arrest.
The claimants say they were charged rent to live in a mass dormitory with up to 80 people sleeping in stacked beds in one room. They describe poor sanitation, overcrowding, no air conditioning, unclean and broken toilet facilities.
They also allege that Dyson had known about the unlawful conditions at least since November 2019 when they were notified by whistleblower Andy Hall.
They contend that the exploitation and dangerous working conditions faced by migrant workers in Malaysian factories had been widely reported over the last 10 years, and therefore, was something that Dyson should have been aware of.
In their legal claim, the workers said Dyson was unjustly enriched as a result of the unlawful, exploitative and dangerous conditions at the factory.
They say Dyson is liable for violating their legal rights, having known of the alleged unlawful practices at the factory, and because of their assumption of responsibility through numerous public statements regarding their policies and procedures for detecting and preventing forced labour and exploitation in their supply chains.
A preliminary issue which the judge must decide is whether the claims can proceed in the courts of England and Wales.
Dyson contends that the claims should be heard in Malaysia. The claimants say these claims relate to the Dyson UK companies and should be heard in the English courts.
“Post-Brexit, overseas victims of alleged corporate abuses by UK headquartered companies no longer have the automatic right to sue that company in the UK,” said Leigh Day partner Oliver Holland.
“Access to justice will be a significant factor in deciding whether the English High Court should continue to hear these kinds of claims against companies which are based in the UK but employ labour in other countries.”.