A Human Rights Watch report released yesterday documenting alleged systematic abuse at every stage of Cambodian domestic migrant workers’ journey to and from Malaysia has drawn sharp criticism from government authorities.
“They Deceived Us at Every Step” was released at a press conference in Phnom Penh and presents case studies of underage recruitment, slave labour working conditions, debt bondage and threats by police against trainees in Cambodia following suicide attempts.
“‘The police officials told us that if we [attempted to] commit suicide, then they would put us in jail. They also said that we should never try to escape,’” the report reads, quoting an anonymous trainee.
Jyotsna Poudyal, HRW’s women’s rights researcher and author of the report, told the conference that threats by recruitment agents to reclaim the family land of trainees attempting to leave the firm was another example of entrenched abuse throughout the whole industry.
She stressed that reported abuses are not confined to Malaysia and said a temporary ban on sending domestic workers there imposed by the government last month needed to be backed up with robust legislation both at home and in the destination country.
“In general, the recruitment practices we found really demonstrate that Cambodia is lagging far behind other countries,” she said, sighting protections negotiated with Malaysia by Indonesia and the Philippines for their migrant workers.
Reports of rescued Cambodian domestic workers being sent back to their employers by the Cambodian embassy were also concerning, the report says.
Chiv Phally, deputy director at the anti-human trafficking and juvenile protection department of the Interior Ministry, denied allegations of police collusion with recruitment firms and said HRW should sit down and work with his officers, instead of baselessly leveling accusations.
“They always accuse us, but they have never done our work,” he said. “What they said or accused us of really affects our values and country because we did not do as they said. We help the workers. We never abuse the victims.”
The temporary ban on sending, recruiting or training domestic workers destined for Malaysia, was ultimately supported by the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies, following public outrage over a loophole introduced by the Ministry of Labour.
ACRA president An Bunhak said yesterday that he supports some of HRW’s recommendations in the report.
“I like the point that ACRA has to cooperate and work closely with the NGOs. We all have to work together, because no one works alone for all Cambodian people,” he said.
But Huy Vudthy, deputy director general of the Ministry of Labour slammed the report as falsely accusing the government of abandoning domestic workers stationed overseas.
“What Human Rights Watch said is crazy; don’t believe them, they don’t know anything. It is not right – the report. They spoke through their dreams,” he said.