Nearly six months after a migrant Cambodian factory worker detained in Malaysia on immigration charges was freed, an NGO that lobbied for her release is calling on the country to re-examine how they treat similar cases.
A Worker Rights Consortium assessment of the case of a young Cambodian woman imprisoned abroad for nearly two months details Malaysia’s increasingly harsh penalties against migrant workers.
“This case illustrates the need for both reform in the treatment of migrant workers in Malaysia . . . and the immediate involvement of brands and retailers in ensuring protection of the basic labor and human rights,” the report says.
Sry Ratha, a 21-year-old who worked at Prolexus’s Honsin Apparel factory in Johor, Malaysia, failed a health inspection when factory-hired doctors found blood in a urine sample last June, the report says.
Managers at Honsin, who hold the passports of foreign employees, notified Ratha of the lapse in late August, after her immigration status had already been revoked on August 14, the report says. As an illegal immigrant, she may not be able to travel back to Cambodia by air, factory managers told her, suggesting she travel overland via Thailand, a route heavily used by human traffickers.
When Ratha refused, the report says, managers sent her to the Immigration Department with instructions to receive a “checkout memo” they said would authorise her return to Cambodia. Authorities at the Immigration Department arrested Ratha on September 9, the report says.
“After a hearing which reportedly lasted only five minutes, [Ratha] was informed that she had been sentenced to prison for four months,” the report says.
NGOs, including the WRC and the Community Legal Education Center (CLEC), were notified by other Honsin workers of the situation and contacted the factory as well as Nike and Under Armour, which buys clothes from it. Efforts by NGOs, buyers and Honsin eventually led to Ratha’s release on October 31.
It is difficult to say how often similar problems arise for Cambodian factory workers abroad, said Huy Pichsovann, a CLEC program manager.