Forced Labor in the Global Electronics Industry
Although the slave trade ended in the nineteenth century, a great number of people are still living in slavery through forced labor. Global electronic industry is thriving on the labor provided by young migrant women workers, whose rights are constantly violated with impunity (Smith, Sonnenfeld, Pellow and Hightower 50). Forced labor is quite raging in Malaysia, particularly in electronic industries. The migrants who work in Malaysian electronic industry are subjected to exorbitant recruitment fees, difficult recruitment processes, and other unscrupulous practices that are beyond their control. This study will focus on forced labor in the global electronic industry, stakeholders in this industry, and alternative course of action to eradicate the practice.
Forced Labor in Malaysia’s Electronic Industry
Electronic industry in Malaysia is an extensive business that employs thousands of employees, where most of them are migrant workers. However, most of the migrant workers work under forced labor conditions, with no proper contractual agreements. According to Verite, a monitoring group that conducted a two-year investigation under the US Department of Labor, Malaysia’s electronic sector employs hundreds of thousands of international workers, who are promised attractive salaries, and stable work that can transform their otherwise poor conditions to higher lifestyle (Forced Labor in the Production of Electronic Goods in Malaysia).
The report stated that most migrants, who come from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Vietnam, had paid recruitment fee that exceed the legal standards. The report indicated that more than three-quarter of the migrants borrowed the recruitment fees and, were forced to work more than one year to recover that fee. Most of the workers that were interviewed claimed that they did not have the freedom of movement due to lack of passports. Most of them experienced pitiable living conditions, where at least eight people occupy a single room. Workers that were hired through third-party employment agents were more exposed to forced labor compared to those that were hired directly by electronic companies.
The issue of forced labor is essential for the government to understand the living standards of the employees. The Malaysian government has claimed that it does not the legal capacity to regulate activities, such as recruitment, placement, as well as repatriation of foreign workers. Other stakeholders in this practice are the human rights activists and trade unionists, who fight for the rights of employees to ensure that their rights are observed. Employers also play a key role in electronic industries, as they make decisions on recruitment, recruitment fees, as well as deciding when it is appropriate to conduct recruitment.
Utilitarianism and Forced Labor
Employers in Malaysia’s Electronic Industry have denied their workers the freedom that would bring happiness in their lives. The theory of utilitarianism focuses on maximizing pleasure and avoiding pain. Utilitarianism is applied in assessing whether an act is right or erroneous by evaluating the consequences of such action. One of the most unflattering criticisms of utilitarianism is incongruity with any kind of revoked rights. Since utilitarianism fastens utilities, it advocates for free trading off an individual’s happiness for another’s. Any burden of desolation on a few is acceptable, as long as it results in increased sum of happiness.
As a philosopher in business ethics, advocates of utilitarianism attempt to weigh social benefits against social costs regarding business actions, and opt to pursue actions that bring maximum benefits. It is morally wrong for Malaysia’s electronic industry to treat foreign workers unfairly, yet the industry is making excessive profits. Employers in electronic industry should be tender to their employees for the sake of family members who depend on them. They should endeavor to make them happy and motivate them to work hard with minimum force. Employees seek jobs because they desire to live a happy life with their families. They do not aspire to gain happiness for any other thing. Employer should utilize ethic in awarding their employees attractive salaries that can make their life better and minimize pain and suffering.
Professional Codes to Eliminate Forced Labor
Every individual is entitled to human rights, regardless of his/her gender, economic status, nationality, or religion. Government should ensure that electronic companies in Malaysia have a working Code of Conduct before they commence their operations. A code of Conduct, or professional code, incorporates rules, regulations, and practices that guide the organizational operations. It informs the workers of what the company demand from them. Code of conduct should offer assurance that the company would comply with community ethical norms. It should apply to both employees and employers and should indicate compliance with the contracts and enforcement of rules.
A professional code should indicate the responsibilities of employees and clients, Professionalism and integrity of the company, conflicts of interest, rules and procedures of recruitment and dismissal, as well as mode of payments. The design of an effective professional code is to establish guidelines that are workable, and this can be achieved through engaging all stakeholders in its implementation. A crucial step in the establishment of code of conduct is to monitor the stakeholders’ commitment to penalties, as well as sanctions, when members engage in unethical behaviors. The government’s practice of shifting the foreign worker’s levy to employers, as claimed by Verite’s report, encouraged electronic companies to charge higher recruitment fees, which was against code of conduct.
Alternate Courses of Action to Remedy Forced Labor
Although many countries are against the practice of forced labor, many governments are reluctant to handle the situation. Establishing a national union for electronic workers in Malaysia is strictly forbidden (Smith et al 50). Sometimes, codes of conduct that many employers utilize do not cater for the migrants’ needs. According to the report by Verite, the Malaysian government has an immigration policy that restricts noncitizens from entering Malaysia, unless they have valid entry permits, but implementation of the policy is quite weak.
The first step towards eliminating forced labor is to create awareness to employment agencies in Malaysia on how to implementing labor laws. Trade unions should handle the issue of forced labor since they have experts who can assist migrants in electronic industry workers to come out of this bondage. They should ensure that the Malaysian national legislations on labor have complied fully with International Labor Organization (ILO) standards. Verite report has proposed that employers who intend to employ unskilled foreign workers should file an application with relevant authorities in Malaysia, which require them to provide information about their business operations. Such companies should avoid employing foreigners who do not possess temporary working visa.
ILO should consider compelling the governments to repeal licenses of companies that are found practicing forced labor. ILO is also considering approaching recruitment agencies, as they can be essential allies in ensuring that shocking violations are mitigated (Engaging Business). Malaysia’s electronic companies should ensure that all migrant have relevant employment documents to avoid exposing migrant to unscrupulous agents, who take away their documents. To ensure that culprits are prosecuted, victim protection centers should be established to encourage the affected individuals to record their issue with the relevant authorities. Preventive measures proposed in the new Forced Labor Protocol by ILO include establishing national plans of action, creating awareness of labor laws to sectors that are vulnerable to forced labor, enhancing labor inspections, and safeguarding migrant workers from recruitment process that are unfair (Global Treaty to Protect Forced Labor Victims Adopted).
Proposition by Utilitarianism as a Remedy for Forced Labor
The idea of Utilitarianism is built on happiness. In order to have happiness, people need to distinguish right from wrong, and this is where the concept of justice comes in. Under the utilitarian thinking, society should exercise law to maximize happiness. Hence, laws that provide punishment to criminal behaviors should be implemented to prevent company owners from engaging in criminal conducts and enhance happiness among employees. If people have intellectual instincts that lead them to judge in a specific way, then they are liable to make good judgments that would enhance happiness to their subjects.
Global electronic industry is flourishing at a rapid rate, but instances of forced labor have tarnished the industry’s popularity. In Malaysia, these industries employ numerous migrant workers, who are mistreated through confiscating their passports, working without contractual agreements, paying exorbitant fee for recruitment, and being denied freedom of movement. Forced labor goes against utilitarianism, where people seek maximum happiness and avoid practices that would cause pain. Forced labor can be eradicated through having transparent company policy that indicates measures to be taken to curb this practice. Malaysian government is endeavoring to implement employment policy, in addition to setting agencies that would oversee proper recruitment of foreign workers in electronic industries. ILO should compel employers to have written contracts for their employees, indicating their rights and terms of payments.
“Engaging Business: Addressing Forced Labor,” International Labor Organization. Promoting Jobs, Protecting People, February 20, 2008. Web 6 November 2014 http://www.ilo.org/global/topics/forced-labour/events/WCMS_092170/lang–en/index.htm
“Forced Labor in the Production of Electronic Goods in Malaysia: A Comprehensive Study of Scope and Characteristics,” Verite, n.d. Web. 8 November 2014 http://www.verite.org/sites/default/files/images/VeriteForcedLaborMalaysianElectronics_2014_0.pdf
“Global Treaty to Protect Forced Labor Victims Adopted.” Human Rights Watch, June 11, 2014. Web 6 November 2014 http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/06/11/global-treaty-protect-forced-labor-victims-adopted
Smith, Ted, David A. Sonnenfeld, David N. Pellow, and Jim Hightower. Challenging the Chip: Labor Rights and Environmental Justice in the Global Electronics Industry. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006. Internet resource.