Newsweek has a disturbing story about the millions of Asian working who are working in slave-like servitude.
Some of the world’s leading computer makers don’t want you to know about Local Technic Industry. It’s a typical Malaysian company, one of many small makers of the cast-aluminum bodies for hard-disk drives used in just about every name-brand machine on the market. But that’s precisely the problem: it’s a typical Malaysian company. About 60 percent of Local Technic’s 160 employees are from outside Malaysia—and a company executive says he pities those guest workers. “They have been fooled hook, line and sinker,” he says, asking not to be named because others in the business wouldn’t like his talking to the press. “They have been taken for a ride.” It’s not Local Technic’s fault, he insists: sleazy labor brokers outside the country tricked the workers into paying huge placement fees for jobs that yield a net income close to zero. “They say they were promised 3,000 ringgits [$950] a month,” the manager says. “How can we pay that? If we did, we would be bankrupt in no time.”
So why don’t those foreign employees just quit? Because they can’t, even if they find out they’ve been cheated by the very brokers who brought them there. Malaysian law requires guest workers to sign multiple-year contracts and surrender their passports to their employers. Those who run away but stay in Malaysia are automatically classed as illegal aliens, subject to arrest, imprisonment and caning before being expelled from the country. “Passport, company take,” says a Bangladeshi who has worked at Local Technic. (Like other workers in this story, he fears possible reprisals if he is named.) “They say, ‘You come to this company, must work for this company and cannot work other place.’ They say, ‘If you work [for] someone else, the police will catch you’.” He paid a broker in Bangladesh $3,600 to get him a job at Local Technic. When he arrived, he says, he learned he was making $114 a month after deductions for room, board and taxes. The math is simple: minus the broker’s fee, his net monthly pay is $14. If he never spends a penny on himself, three years of labor will earn him a grand total of $504.
Free trade is absolutely necessary to the global economy, but we need to start getting serious about labor and environmental standards. Putting an end to this type of forced labor would be an obvious place to start.