By Andy Hall

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia--International migrant rights specialist Andy Hall said Malaysia's national action plan on forced labour was a noble initiative, but he was concerned it would end up as simply a wasted paper exercise by a powerless Ministry of Human Resources.

He stressed that to solve forced labor issues genuinely, sustainably and systematically in Malaysia needed much more than even a radical change of multiple government migration related policies and practices that actually cause or promote the forced labour in the first place, as well as effectively addressing the other challenges outlined in the draft Plan circulated for public consultation.

To address forced labour holistically in Malaysia, Hall said, more importantly this required addressing as an urgent national priority the systemic corruption and impunity of government officials and politicians  that is so clearly linked with and the main cause of the forced labour in the first place. He mentioned in this regard especially the poor conduct of officials in the Ministry of Home Affairs. These issues are not raised at all in the draft documents circulated for consultation, and hence diminish the potential for success in the implementation stage of such a national action plan on forced labour.

In addition, Hall said the Ministry of Human Resources in Malaysia was in practice powerless to set or control the agenda and/or policies on migration and forced labour in Malaysia, as almost every power that can ensure change for the better here is firmly embedded with the Ministry or Home Affairs, which prioritizes national security concerns over economic and human security, and which in itself breeds systemic corruption and impunity.

In addition, Hall said there is limited to no rule of law nor a long term holistic migration policy from which these systemic issues of serious forced labour can be effectively addressed in Malaysia currently, and likewise the national action plan does not touch on these two deficits either.

Whilst the Malaysian private sector needs to take the lead in addressing, preventing and remediating modern slavery and forced labour in its own operations and supply chains, the support and cooperation of buyers, public procurers, investors and the international community at large is essential and required here also. All these actors should be deemed complicit in this ongoing crisis situation regarding modern slavery and forced labour that is systemic in Malaysia but likewise are not mentioned in the action plan in any detail.

At the same time, of course the Government of Malaysia is a key actor that should take the lead to combat modern slavery and forced labour within its borders. The continued and systemic failures of the Government of Malaysia to ensure a holistic migrant worker policy is developed and enforced in a way that balances national, economic and human security concerns continues to heighten and contribute to risks of forced labour and modern slavery occurring extensively within operations of both private and state run companies operating in the Malaysia.

The presence of systemic corruption, impunity and the lack of accountability and enforcement of the rule of law in regards to human trafficking, forced labour and abuses against migrant workers both at work, in their living accomodation and during migrant recruitment, registration, regularization and arrest, detainment and deportation processes are all crucial issues that the Malaysian government should urgently take genuine action to address and overcome.

This concerted action on such sensitive issues is required if the Government is indeed to provide a respected and transparent domestic framework, that complies with the rule of law, and by which the private sector can and should attempt to work to ensure its increasingly important efforts to combat systemic forced labour and modern slavery across its operations can be sustainable and successful into the future.