WRC Report – Prolexus Bhd. / Honsin Apparel (Malaysia)

To:WRC Affiliate Universities and Colleges
From:Scott Nova and Ben Hensler
Date:April 23, 2014
Re:WRC Report – Prolexus Bhd. / Honsin Apparel (Malaysia)

Please find here a report concerning the WRC’s work to secure release from prison, urgently needed medical care, and financial compensation for a Cambodian migrant worker in Malaysia who had been imprisoned by government authorities for an alleged immigration offense while employed by a factory in that country, Honsin Apparel, that is owned by Prolexus Bhd., a supplier of non-collegiate apparel to Nike and, via a sister facility, of collegiate apparel to Under Armour. In September 2013, this worker was arrested, given a prison sentence, and denied needed medical care, after her work permit had been revoked – solely on the basis of her having contracted a non-communicable, highly-treatable illness.

As wage levels have risen in Malaysia over the last decade, the country’s garment industry has increasingly relied on migrant workers from poorer countries in the region – such as Burma, Cambodia, and Nepal – as a source of low-cost labor. Malaysia’s government, facing a growing foreign worker population, has adopted strict administrative requirements for migrant laborers and harsh penalties for those found to violate them. Although this particular case had a very positive outcome – the WRC, in collaboration with Nike, Under Armour and other stakeholders, was able to help secure for the worker her release from detention and transportation home to Cambodia, as well as medical treatment and substantial financial compensation paid for by the factory’s owners – it highlights the need for greater attention by brands and retailers, including university licensees, to pervasive labor rights abuses in the Malaysian garment industry against migrant workers.

In this case, after having worked at the factory for nearly two years – and having paid hundreds of dollars in recruitment fees out of her wages – a young Cambodian migrant worker was arrested on the charge of having illegally overstayed her work permit, which had been cancelled after she failed to pass a government-mandated annual health exam, apparently due to a then-undiagnosed infection. For this “offense” she was convicted and sentenced, without the benefit of a lawyer, or even an interpreter, to several months in a Malaysian prison, to be followed by further detention and eventual deportation.

In early October 2013, this situation, while already troubling from a labor and human rights standpoint, became especially concerning upon the news that, although the worker’s health was rapidly deteriorating, she was not receiving medical treatment during her imprisonment. A number of parties intervened in the case, including the WRC, two leading Malaysian and Cambodian nongovernmental organizations, Nike, and Under Armour.

As a result of the efforts of these parties, at the end of October, the worker’s case was opened for rehearing, at which she was represented by counsel provided by Prolexus, and granted release by the court. After having secured her release from detention, the company, at the urging of the WRC and the other parties involved, provided the worker with air transportation back home to her family in Cambodia, substantial monetary compensation, and payment for her to receive necessary treatment, which ultimately required hospitalization and ongoing medication.

In this individual case, a positive outcome was achieved in what was, potentially, a life-threatening situation for the worker involved. The employee’s detention, however, was part of a much broader, and ongoing, pattern of violations of the basic human rights of migrant workers in Malaysia, many of which have far different outcomes. As such, this case illustrates the need for both reform in the treatment of migrant workers in Malaysia by employers and government authorities, and the immediate involvement of brands and retailers in ensuring protection of the basic labor and human rights of such workers in their Malaysian supplier factories.

The report linked here makes specific recommendations for university licensees and other apparel buyers doing business in Malaysia with respect to measures needed to protect the rights and welfare of migrant workers in their supplier factories, including to ensure that migrant workers:

  • Who ‘fail’ government-mandated health checks are provided immediate medical treatment and, when necessary, transportation to their home countries, thereby avoiding the risk of imprisonment as a result of cancellation of their work permits.
  • Who, for reasons unrelated to their ability to perform their jobs, ‘fail’ these health checks and must return home prior to the end of their employment contracts, receive appropriate financial compensation.
  • Are not subject to pay deductions or fees related to obtaining employment, and are compensated for any past deductions or fees of this kind.
  • Are permitted to retain their passports during their entire period of employment.

The WRC looks forward to collaboration with universities, licensees and other stakeholders to address the serious and ongoing violations of migrant workers’ rights in the Malaysian garment sector. As always, please contact us if you have any questions or concerns.

Scott Nova 
Worker Rights Consortium 
5 Thomas Circle NW, 5th Floor 
Washington DC 20005 
ph  202 387 4884 
fax 202 387 3292 
[email protected]