Indonesian children and migrant workers enslaved in oil palm plantations
Oil palm firms are making a fortune in Malaysia particularly with
the current agrofuel rush. But none of it goes to those who put
their blood and flesh to make the money come out from oil palm plantations
(see WRM Bulletin Nº 134). Migrant workers from Indonesia appear
to be among those who get the worst deal.
At least 103 oil palm plantations in Sabah employ about 200,000
legal migrants as well as 134,000 considered
illegal workers from Indonesia. An article from Erwilda Maulia,
published in The Jakarta Post on September 17, 2008, reports “slavery
practices” at oil palm plantations in Sabah, Malaysia. The National
Commission for Child Protection revealed that thousands of Indonesian
migrant workers and their children have been "systematically
Denunciation came from a group of local Indonesian teachers who
reported “an alleged case of child exploitation as well as several
cases of physical and sexual harassment of children of Indonesian
migrant employees”. They also said that “children between the ages
of six and 18 had to work for hours collecting sacks of oil palm
seeds scattered on the ground, in return for a minimal amount of
pay. The children were often forced to work by their own parents
or by plantation managers”, he added.
Arist Merdeka Sirait, a member of a fact-finding team sent to plantations
in Sabah said: “They are placed in isolated barracks with no access
to transportation, making it impossible for them to leave the plantations.
Nor do they have access to clean water, lighting and other facilities."
The article reported him as saying that about 72,000 children of
Indonesian migrant workers at the Sabah plantations were forced
to work without regulated employment hours, meaning they were made
to work all day long. The children were not provided with birth
certificates or any other type of identity documents, effectively
denying their right to formal education, among other rights.
“We call this 'bonded labor' (a means of paying off debt by direct
labour rather than by currency or goods), and it is a modern kind
of slavery," Arist added. According to him, "Bonded labor"
was common at all the plantations, and Malaysian authorities deliberately
allow such conditions to persist.
It is very convenient for the ambitious corporations to have a way
of maintaining "illegal"
workers and by enslaving children of migrant workers they secure
a future low-paid labour force, just like their parents. To make
matters worse, "illegal"
workers are often extorted by Malaysian security officers who check
their documents, Arist denounced.
The bitter fruit of oil palm plantations seems to become even more
sour for the workers.
Article based on information from: “RI workers, children 'enslaved'
in Malaysia, commission says”, Erwida Maulia , The Jakarta Post