Forced labour has long been a pressing issue that plagues developing nations. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) Forced Labour Convention (C29) defines forced labour as all work or service which is exacted from any person under the threat of a penalty and for which the person has not offered himself (or herself) voluntarily.
Forced labour is one of the manifestations of trafficking in persons, and modern-day slavery like practices. The Non-Aligned Movement recognises that trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants continue to pose a serious challenge to humanity and require concerted international response, based on cooperation and sharing of information, as appropriate. NAM has urged the Member States to enforce and strengthen effective measures to prevent, combat and eliminate all forms of trafficking in persons to counter the demand for trafficked victims and to protect the victims, in particular women and children subjected to forced labour.
In Malaysia, forced labour is often associated with migrant workers due to their vulnerability and the country’s high reliance on migrant workers in labour- intensive sectors and industries. Malaysia firmly believes that forced labour is an infringement of human rights and constitutional rights and has taken proactive actions to address the issue. Elimination of forced labour, along with human trafficking and child labour, is also an explicit priority under the Sustainable development Goals (SDGs). SDG Target 8.7 is a globally agreed target on the eradication of forced labour by 2030, something the government of Malaysia is committed to achieve. On 21 March 2022, the Government of Malaysia deposited the instrument of ratification of the Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 with the Director-General of the ILO, thereby becoming the 58th country in the world. In depositing the instrument of ratification, Seri Saravanan, Minister of Human Resources of Malaysia, stated: “This ratification is a testament to our utmost commitment in addressing and eradicating forced labour, which is an infringement of human rights that should not be tolerated. Malaysia has taken various initiatives to address issues related to forced labour, particularly in relation to migrant workers due to their vulnerability and the country’s high reliance on foreign workers in labour -intensive sectors and industries.
An important mechanism to address the forced labour issue in Malaysia is the National Action Plan on Forced Labour 2021-2025 (NAPFL). The NAPFL focusses attention specifically on activities intended to prevent forced labour, addressing full range of forced labour and providing an overarching framework for organisations and initiatives to tackle forced labour. This includes specific activities intended to raise awareness and understanding on forced labour, both among workers, employers and the general public. It will also include data collection and analysis, improving law enforcement and legal compliances, and improving migration management and strengthening systemic prevention efforts. In addition, the NAPFL seeks to improve access to and enhance different kinds of support services and compensations for victims of forced labour.
NAPFL identifies 4Ps or the four pillars. The first “P” refers to prevention of forced labour. Prevention is often more effective than cure and it saves individuals from exploitation and abuse and potentially traumatising experiences. The second “P” refers to protection of victims. This pillar builds upon the fundamental principle that victims are victims, not criminals, and they should be protected from discrimination, from their perpetrators and from becoming repeat victims. The third “P” refers to prosecution. Law enforcement also encompasses such things as effective inspection regimes, police investigations (that will collect evidence and enable prosecution) and identification of victims. The fourth and final “P” refers to partnership. Partnerships between multiple partners with different mandates, skills and specialisations are essential to tackle multi-causal, complex issues like forced labour.
The overall aim for the NAPFL is that by 2025 the forced labour incidence in Malaysia is reduced. Towards this aim, the NAPFL consists of the following four Strategic Goals to be realised by 2025. By 2025, there will be an improved knowledge base and awareness and understanding of forced labour among workers and employers, young people, government staff and the general public; By 2025, there will be an improved legal compliance and enforcement related to forced labour; By 2025, migration management, including recruitment practices, will be strengthened; and by 2025, victims of forced labour will have improved access to remedy, support and protection services and systems to prevent forced labour will be improved.
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