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OM in the News: Forced Labor in Apple’s Malaysian Factories?

September 22, 2014

malaysia 2“Nearly 1 in 3 migrant workers in Malaysia’s thriving electronics industry,” writes The New York Times (Sept. 17, 2014), “toils under forced labor conditions, essentially trapped in the job.” The investigation, commissioned by the US government and conducted by the factory monitoring group, Verite, reported that 32% of the industry’s nearly 200,000 migrant workers were employed in forced situations because their passports had been taken away or because they were straining to pay back illegally high recruitment fees.

The report said those practices were prevalent among the migrants from Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Vietnam and other countries who work in Malaysia’s nearly 200 electronics factories. Those factories, which produce consumer electronics, motherboards, computer peripherals and other electronic goods, account for a third of Malaysia’s exports and produce for many well-known companies, including Apple, Flextronics, Samsung and Sony. Verite added that about half of the migrant workers who borrowed for their recruitment fees spent more than a year paying off those fees. The Labor Department commissioned the study because the federal government frowns on the importation of goods made by forced labor.

Thirty percent of foreign workers said they slept in a room with more than eight people, while 22% of the workers said they had been deceived about their wages, hours or overtime requirements during the recruitment process. Almost 46% said they had to pay a bribe, were detained or were threatened with detention or physical harm and 27% of the foreign workers said they could not come and go freely from their housing. Apple’s supply chain, which employs 1.5 million workers worldwide, employs 18,000 in Malaysia, including 4,000 migrant contract workers. Since 2008, Apple said it had helped migrant workers in Malaysia and elsewhere to reclaim $19.8 million in excessive recruitment fees. Apple uses about 30 factories in Malaysia.

Classroom discussion questions:

1. What is the responsibility of Apple and other manufacturers to these workers?

2. Why do these workers come to Malaysia?

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