This session was led by International Labour Organisation (ILO). Participants were introduced to the forced labour concepts and Conventions relating to trafficking via lec- ture-based presentation by Ms. Jodelen Mitra of ILO and an interactive activity conducted by Ms. New Su Shern from Project Liber8 whereby the participants at each ta- ble interviewed a “victim” of forced labour to understand the challenges faced by victims such as not receiving proper wages, passport being confiscated, debt bondage, long working hours, no freedom of movement, poor living conditions, abuse, no access to healthcare, not able to change employers, and no work permit. This was fol- lowed by a panel discussion featuring speakers and topics relating to forced labour and the NAP on forced labour, ending with a Q&A session and reflection on the panel discussion.
The panel discussion was moderated by Ms. Noor Har- yanti Bte Noor Sidin from the Ministry of Human Re- sources. The first Speaker, Dr. Andika Ab. Wahab, pre- sented on his key findings relating to the Bridge Project funded by ILO. Some of the contributing factors to the vulnerability of migrant workers to forced labour include the lack of documentation such as valid passports. For refugees, those without the UNHCR card are even more vulnerable. The high cost of migration of workers, such as those incurred by Bangladesh workers, often leave the workers vulnerable to debt bondage. The use of contrac- tors and outsourcing companies to recruit workers often expose the migrant workers to exploitation. The labour enforcement faces challenges in their enforcement efforts and abilities to identify labour trafficking due to the huge coverage of more than two million registered and active companies in the country. Some of the key recommendations were to integrate the forced labour action plan within the existing National Action Plan or to develop a standalone national forced labour law. Measur- able indicators of forced labour should be developed. It was suggested that the membership of CSOs in MAPO should be increased to strengthen the CSOs’ voice. Inter- agency collaboration should be strengthened, especially in data sharing. One stop centres in the rural community should be established to collect information relating to forced labour issues.
Ms. Sumitha Kishna, founder of Our Journey, provided a practitioner’s point of view on key areas to address in the national action plan for forced labour. At present, there is no clear definition for forced labour but it is an indication of human trafficking in the ATIPSOM Act. Forced labour can occur independently of trafficking in persons. Under the ATIPSOM, there is a need to demonstrate coercion. Forced labour is subjective and may not necessarily be about wages or being confined, but also psychological. Traffickers often use threats against the victims’ family members back home. Victims may be supported while they are here once rescued but not for the family back home. There is a need to work with NGOs in the country of origin to support the families, then perhaps more vic- tims will come forth with disclosures. The ATIPSOM needs to be widened to include psychological impact and decep- tion. Victim support such as psychological assistance should be provided and strengthened, including the need for the Investigating Officers (IOs) and Deputy Public Pros- ecutors (DPPs) to spend more time with the victims and to understand the victims’ mind set and situations at home. Legal counsel should be given to victims as well as their families. Sex trafficking is not recognized as work, and therefore victims are not compensated. Compensa- tion to victims are normally payable for quantifiable viola- tions. However, the financial loss and psychological harm on the victims of sex trafficking may not always be quanti- fiable.
Mr. Kevin Geh Kien Meng from NSO MAPO spoke on the partnership needed to implement sub NAP on forced la- bour under the NAP TIP. Referring to the points made by the previous speakers, Mr. Kevin Geh noted that at this point in time, these issues are under consideration and no conclusion have been derived yet. In terms of compensa- tion for sex work, he acknowledged that this is a compli- cated matter as sex work is not regarded as legal work. In 2010, the ATIPSOM Act was expanded to include forced labour into the definition of trafficking in persons. “Coercion” is a point of contention, and the government is considering either to widen or remove the element of coercion in the ATIPSOM Act. Forced labour predates trafficking in persons. Modern slavery is wider and should include all other situations. For example, a woman who owes money to a loan shark could be required to work extra hours to pay back the debt. This debt bondage would be a form of modern slavery. The Employment Act does include forced labour situations, however, forced labour also happens without the existence of employ- ment contracts between the employer and the workers. It was acknowledged that there is a need to address both forced labour and trafficking in persons, and that more practical approaches are required to deal with the issues.
The Speakers addressed several questions raised by the participants. On how the Malaysian government checks on the employers whether they are hiring workers legally or otherwise, Mr. Kevin Geh responded that the govern- ment does not condone employers harbouring illegal em- ployees. MAPO will take action to rescue such workers who have been labour trafficked. Ms. Sumitha added that migration is employer centric in the sense that workers
do not have the avenue to renew their work permit and are dependent on the employers. This leads to vulnerabil- ity of migrant. If they are not paid, abused or faced other kinds of exploitation, they are not able to terminate and find another employer but are forced to either continue working or leave and become undocumented worker. For employers who have to incur high recruitment costs, they would tend to do what they can to keep the worker from leaving. The government should consider reducing the migration recruitment fee.
On how psychologists can help in getting victims to come forth with disclosures, Ms. Sumitha, psychologists are different from the IOs or lawyers as they are professionals who understand trauma and how victims are impacted, and are able to work with victims to alleviate their fear and help to deal with their trauma. Psychologists can help to convince the victims that disclosure is important to help with their case. Mr. Kevin Geh added that there are currently qualified counsellors allowed into the shelters to conduct counselling sessions with the victims.
In terms of prosecution, Mr. Kevin Geh stated that one of the challenges is that in certain cases, the law needs to be enhanced to prosecute the trafficker as not all forced labour cases fall under the ATIPSOM Act. There needs to be greater public partnership, to have other agencies to oversee the government, such as the NGOs, as the gov- ernment is overstretched. There should be greater collab- oration, including in increasing awareness programmes on trafficking in persons. As to which part of the ATIPSOM Act to amend, there needs to be a clearer definition on coercion or perhaps eliminate coercion in the definition of trafficking in persons. Owners of businesses, industry and commerce to be held responsible as recruiters and caretakers of their workers. The sentences or penalties for forced labour should be increased. With regards to domestic workers, which is in the informal sector, it was difficult for the enforcement on the ground to identify the cases. Ms. Sumitha added that as domestic workers work in private dwelling, officers can only go in when they re- ceive a complaint. Rescue is challenging as domestic workers are usually confined in a home.
Ms. Liva Sreedharan closed by reflecting on the need for the context to fit for purpose in regards to policy, that is, policies should respond to evolving circumstances—find good polices and replace bad ones. Consultations are im- portant to understand those who are affected. Rather than emphasising policy changes, more emphasis is re- quired on concrete steps to curb forced labour. This would be the right direction forward. It is crucial for all stakeholders to continue the conversation and collabora- tion to prevent forced labour.