Malaysian firm to reimburse Nepali ex-workers their recruitment expensesMany Malaysian gloves manufacturers have started compensating their foreign workers following international pressure to make their products free of ‘forced labour.’
In what may be seen as foreign employers’ efforts at promoting fair and ethical recruitment practices, a leading Malaysian company has come forward to refund its former Nepali workers the money they had invested during their recruitment process.
Hartalega Holdings Bhd, the world’s largest producer of synthetic rubber gloves used mainly in the healthcare industry, has asked its Nepali workers, who once worked for the company, to contact the company so that it could pay back their recruitment costs.
Issuing a notice in a Nepali national daily, the company has asked its former Nepali workers to contact the company and apply for reimbursement of their recruitment costs.
Migrant rights activists have lauded the company’s initiative, which is likely to help Nepali migrant workers who often take loans to finance their recruitment fees and also send out a message for the promotion of ethical recruitment practices.
“At a time when there are reports of migrant workers facing wage theft and returning home empty-handed, a Malaysian company coming forward to compensate its ex-workers is a praiseworthy initiative,” said Swarna Kumar Jha, a labour migration researcher and activist. “The move is also beneficial for the company because even the Nepal government could blacklist it for exploiting Nepali migrants and bar it from hiring Nepali workers.”
Malaysia-based companies are the world’s biggest manufacturers of rubber gloves. However, in recent years, reports have surfaced that workers employed in these companies were working as forced labour amid allegations of passport confiscations, debt bondage, deceptive recruitment, illegal withholding of pay, and restricted freedom of movement among other things.
Following reports of ill-treatment of the labour force, the United States’ Customs and Border Protection (CBP) imposed a ban on the products of various foreign firms.
The action by the US, which is the biggest market for gloves manufactured in Malaysia, prompted Malaysian firms to come forward and compensate their employees.
Last year, when the pandemic caused an unprecedented surge in demand for medical gloves and manufacturers had to go into overdrive to meet the demand, many Malaysian companies, one after another, had rolled out remediation schemes for compensating their workers.
The move was also motivated by these companies eyeing massive profit during the pandemic period which saw medical protective gear manufacturers posting record profits. The ongoing pandemic has seen skyrocketing demand for gloves from Malaysian manufactures, creating new billionaires in the Southeast Asian country.
Malaysian companies came up with remediation packages to abide by the zero recruitment cost policy and send out a message against international allegations that the companies have exploitative working conditions and their products were made with forced labour. Such reimbursement schemes would also benefit Nepali workers employed in those companies.
“Foreign employers like these Malaysian companies deciding to reimburse Nepali workers, who were once cheated during the recruitment phase, can set an example for employers in other labour destination countries too,” Jha, who is also a coordinator of the National Network for Safe Migration, a grouping of organisations promoting safer migration, told the Post. “This decision will put a moral pressure on other employers. They should come forward to protect migrants, who come from poor countries like Nepal and pay hefty sums for recruitment, and ensure they are not exploited during any phases of migration.”
The Guardian investigation, in 2018, had revealed that at least two Malaysian companies—Top Glove and WRP–were subjecting thousands of migrant workers from Nepal and Bangladesh to exploitative working conditions and their products were part of forced labour.
WRP’s decision to compensate its foreign workers had come on the heels of the CBP’s ban on the company’s exports to the US, in September 2019, over forced labour charges.
Later, Top Glove Corp Bhd, the world’s largest medical glove maker, had decided to refund up to Malaysian Ringgit (RM)50 million to its workers to cover their recruitment investments. Months later, the company further raised the remediation amount to RM 136 million (USD 32.77 million).
Hartalega Holdings Bhd, which recently put a notice in a Nepali newspaper, also announced its plan to reimburse a total of up to RM40 million in recruitment fees previously paid by migrant workers to employment agents during the recruitment process.
According to a migrant rights activist, who did not want to be named, Nepali workers currently employed at Hartalega have already started receiving their reimbursement in instalments.
“As per our conversation with the Nepali workers employed at Hartalega, the company has between 1,500 to 2,000 Nepali workers. They have started getting back their refund,” said the activist. “The new notice is for Nepali workers who have already returned home. As it is not easy to contact those workers, who could be anywhere these days, the notice was issued in a national daily so that they could easily get in touch with the company. Through this notice, the company will start collecting documents.”
However, the number of former Nepali workers of the company is not immediately known.
Post’s email to the company was not responded by the time of the filing of this story.
Also, migrant rights activists find confusion in the notice as it neither mentions the eligibility criteria for claiming reimbursement, nor contains any information on the focal person to be contacted. Besides, it has a Quick Response (QR) code for reaching out to the company, which they say can be tricky for migrant workers who often lack technological knowledge.
“It is important that companies complicit in forced labour take all reasonable steps to reach out transparently to workers who are eligible for reimbursement to ensure they receive these payments promptly and reliably,” Andy Hall, a Kathmandu-based migrant workers rights specialist working in South and South-East Asia, said. “As there are many complexities involved, it’s important that the companies bear in mind workers' literacy levels may be low, so additional support is therefore required to ensure workers access the remediation they are entitled to.”