September 27th 2008

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Malcolm Turnbull topples Brendan Nelson

EDITORIAL: Defence: new situations demand new policies

GLOBAL WAR ON TERRORISM: Landmark terrorist trials in Melbourne and London

FINANCIAL AFFAIRS: Why Wall Street imploded

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: Australia facing external economic pressures

SCIENCE: Global-warming - myth, threat or opportunity?

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH: Breaking the truce on abortion

STRAWS IN THE WIND: The undeserving poor / The bolt from the blue / Sarah Palin / Ladder-kickers / Peter Costello

UNITED STATES: Sarah Palin appointment leaves Left apoplectic

ASIA: Rocky road ahead for Malaysia

HUMAN-TRAFFICKING: Vietnamese slave-labourers in Malaysia

COLD WAR: The spy who teetered on the edge

EDUCATION: Co-educational secondary schooling's drawbacks

SCHOOLS: Queensland school bans cartwheels

Water resources (letter)

Hearing the arguments (letter)

Palin for president? (letter)

Bio-fuels (letter)

BOOKS: 10 BOOKS THAT SCREWED UP THE WORLD: And 5 Others That Didn't Help, by Benjamin Wiker

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Vietnamese slave-labourers in Malaysia

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, September 27, 2008
Vietnam has been involved in human-trafficking and allowing their people to work as slave-labourers for foreign corporations in developing countries. Peter Westmore reports.

Following an exposé on Channel 7, the Nike Corporation has been forced to compensate thousands of Vietnamese workers in Malaysia who were working effectively as slave labourers.

The Committee to Protect Vietnamese Workers has long campaigned against the exploitation of Vietnamese workers by Western corporations in developing countries.

On July 21, Channel 7 News reporter Mike Duffy conducted an undercover investigation of immigrant workers at the Hytex Apparel factory near Kuala Lumpur, in Malaysia.

He found that labour agencies, licensed by the Vietnamese regime, scour poor areas and tell people to pay them a hefty upfront fee (about 25 million dongs) to work in Malaysia on attractive contracts. On arrival, the agencies confiscate passports and hand the workers over to employers.

Employers tell workers they have never seen such contracts, and tell workers to sign new, typically worse, contracts. Workers try to complain to the agencies, only to find they have moved, or are told outright that the contracts are false.

Disappointed workers cannot leave because, to get their passports back, typically they must pay a levy and the wages of the remaining years of a three-year contract.

Hanoi regime

The Hanoi regime has been involved in this human-trafficking through its ongoing issuing of licences to agencies, including those that close down to avoid being followed by workers' families, and then re-register under new names.

Unable to pay to get their passports back, cheated workers are forced to stay and work. This human-trafficking of workers has been going on for years.

On August 1, Nike issued a statement that it was committed to respecting the rights of workers in factories it had contracted to produce its clothing and footwear.

It said, "Nike has completed its initial investigation into claims of unacceptable living conditions, withholding of worker passports and garnishing of wages at Hytex, a Malaysian contract factory. Our investigation confirms serious breaches of Nike's code of conduct at the Hytex Factory.

"Nike takes these issues very seriously and is taking immediate action to protect the rights of workers in its Malaysian supply chain. We are committed to comprehensively addressing the issues identified at Hytex and to continued follow-up to help ensure changes are lasting.

"Nike has taken decisive action and has required Hytex to make the following non-negotiable and immediate changes:

"1) All current migrant workers will be reimbursed for fees associated with employment including, but not limited to, recruiting fees paid to agents and worker permit fees.

"2) Going forward, any and all fees associated with employment will be paid by the factory as a cost of doing business.

"3) Any worker who wishes to return home will be provided with return airfare, irrespective of their contract requirements.

"4) The majority of housing has been found to be unacceptable. All workers will be transitioned into new Nike-inspected and approved housing within 30 days. This transition has already begun.

"5) All workers will have immediate and total free access to their passports. No restrictions.

"6) Workers will have access to a 24-hour Nike hotline should they be denied access to their passports by factory management. All claims will be promptly investigated.

"Communication to the workers of these changes will be delivered verbally as well as posted in all communal areas in all appropriate languages.

"In the next 10 days, Nike will review its entire Malaysian contract factory base and require factories to institute these same policies," the statement concluded.

Trung Doan, Australia-based secretary of the Committee to Protect Vietnamese Workers (CPVW), said, "Through our contacts among Nike's Vietnamese workers and unions and other NGOs in Malaysia, we will keenly watch and hope to see lasting progress soon."

In May, CPVW detailed the trafficking of Vietnamese workers to Malaysia in its submission to the Australian Government's review of Australia's textile clothing and footwear industries.

It is preparing to make submissions to United States authorities, in particular the United States' Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

Trung Doan said, "Millions of miserable lives will be improved if governments such as Canberra and Washington set minimum labour standards, and establish funds to facilitate independent inspections of factories in Vietnam, Malaysia, etc.

"With such monitoring and resultant exposures, their respective consumer citizens will hear the voice of hitherto voiceless workers in sweatshops overseas.

"The exposure on Channel Seven was a result of one such monitoring, but the problem is huge, much wider than Nike, and governments should join the fight," Mr. Doan concluded.

- Peter Westmore.

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