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South-East Asian garment workers facing exploitation
18
May '12
War on Want is a movement of people committed to global justice. The vision is a world free from poverty and oppression, based on social justice, equality and human rights for all.

Migrant workers have played a central part in the economic success story of many South-East Asian countries in recent years. As these countries have embraced the 'outwards turn' of export orientation, migrant workers have provided a regular source of cheap labour that has allowed their manufacturing industries to compete successfully on world markets.

Women migrants, in particular, have taken on jobs considered too arduous or unpleasant by local workers. Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia have reaped huge economic benefits from the contribution made by migrant workers. In Cambodia, almost 90% of garment factory workers are young women who have migrated from rural areas of the country.

Migration from neighbouring countries has provided an essential source of cheap labour to the thriving export industries of Thailand and Malaysia. Despite their contribution, these same countries have refused to grant migrant workers the rights and security that are their due.

This report presents the results of new research into the lives and conditions facing migrant women workers in Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia. In particular, it presents the findings of a series of in-depth interviews with migrant women workers – many of them still teenagers – conducted in each country. The interviews reveal a common tale of precarious lives in the face of state oppression and exploitation at the hands of unscrupulous employers.

Many Western companies are also profiting from the abuse of migrant women workers detailed in this report. High street brands such as Adidas, Nike, Reebok and Levi-Strauss sell goods produced in all three countries, while low labour costs have made Cambodia a key source of cheap clothing for stores such as Gap, Zara, Marks & Spencer and H&M. Workers in Malaysia's booming electronics industry supply market leaders all over the world.

War on Want believes that women migrant workers in South-East Asia, like all workers, have the right to a living wage and decent working conditions. It is wrong for countries such as Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia to rely on the labour of such workers for their economic success and yet refuse to grant them even the most basic security in their lives.

It is equally unacceptable for Western companies to profit from the violation of migrant workers' rights in their supply chains. All readers are encouraged to take the actions listed at the end of this report in order to secure justice for women migrant workers in South-East Asia, and around the world.

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War on Want

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