WRC Factory Investigation

Prolexus Bhd. (Honsin Apparel)

Factory: Prolexus Bhd. (Honsin Apparel)

Key Buyers: Nike, Under Armour

Last Updated: 2014

Case Summary

The WRC worked to secure release from detention, urgently needed medical care, and financial compensation for a Cambodian migrant worker who had been unjustly imprisoned in Malaysia while employed by a factory, 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2013, this worker was arrested, given a prison sentence, and denied needed medical care, after her work permit had been revoked – on the sole basis of her having contracted a non-communicable, highly-treatable illness.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 has adopted strict administrative requirements for migrant laborers and harsh penalties for those found to violate them. Although, in this case, the WRC, in collaboration with Nike, Under Armour and other stakeholders, was able to help secure the worker’s release from detention and transportation home to Cambodia, as well as medical treatment and substantial financial compensation, these events highlight 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, 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. The situation, became especially concerning upon the news that, although the worker’s health was rapidly deteriorating, she was not receiving medical treatment.

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

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