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China (Includes Hong Kong, Macau, and Tibet)

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Hong Kong

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Section 7. Worker Rights

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law does not prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, nor do laws specifically criminalize forced labor. Instead, the SAR uses its Employment and Theft Ordinances to prosecute forced labor and related offenses. Because these violations are typically civil offenses with fines, penalties for these offenses were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, which violate the Crimes Ordinance and carry prison terms.

NGOs expressed concerns that some migrant workers, especially domestic workers in private homes, faced high levels of indebtedness assumed as part of the recruitment process, creating a risk they could be subjected to forced labor through debt-based coercion. Domestic workers in the SAR were mostly women and mainly came from the Philippines, Indonesia, and other Southeast and South Asian countries. The SAR allows for the collection of maximum placement fees of 10 percent of the first month’s wages, but some recruitment firms required large up-front fees in the country of origin that workers struggled to repay. Some locally licensed employment agencies were suspected of colluding with local money lenders and agencies overseas to profit from debt schemes, and some local agencies illegally withheld the passports and employment contracts of domestic workers until they repaid the debt.

SAR authorities stated they encouraged aggrieved workers to file complaints and make use of government conciliation services, and that they actively pursued reports of any labor violations (see section 7.e., Acceptable Conditions of Work).

See also the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. Regulations prohibit employment of children younger than 15 in any industrial establishment. Children younger than 13 are prohibited from taking up employment in all economic sectors. Children who are 13 or older may be employed in nonindustrial establishments, subject to certain requirements, such as parental written consent and proof the child has completed the required schooling.

The Labor Department effectively enforced these laws and regularly inspected workplaces to enforce compliance with the regulations. Penalties for child labor law violations include fines and legal damages and were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, that violate the Crimes Ordinance and carry prison terms.

Malaysia

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Section 7. Worker Rights

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Five agencies, including the Department of Labor of the Ministry of Human Resources, have enforcement powers under the law, but their officers performed a variety of functions and did not always actively search for indications of forced labor. NGOs continued to criticize the lack of resources dedicated to enforcement of the law.

The government did not effectively enforce laws prohibiting forced labor in some cases, and large fines as penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

In February General Mills issued global “no buy orders” from palm oil producers FGV and Sime Darby Plantation due to forced labor claims. Other buyers requested suppliers to reduce or exclude FGV and Sime Darby products for supplies entering numerous countries.

In June the Malaysia Stock Exchange removed Top Glove from its responsible investment indexes based on allegations of forced labor. Observers reported occurrences of forced labor or conditions indicative of forced labor in plantation agriculture, electronics factories, garment production, rubber-product industries, and domestic service among both adults and children (also see section 7.c.).

Employers, employment agents, and labor recruiters subjected some migrants to forced labor or debt bondage. Many companies hired foreign workers using recruiting or outsourcing companies, creating uncertainty about the legal relationship between the worker, the outsourcing company, and the owner of the workplace, making workers more vulnerable to exploitation and complicating dispute resolution. Labor union representatives noted that recruiting agents in the countries of origin and locally sometimes imposed high fees, making migrant workers vulnerable to debt bondage. A July study by Newcastle University of 1,500 mainly migrant workers found that the following forced labor indicators in the country had worsened during the pandemic: restrictions on movement, isolation, abusive working and living conditions, and excessive overtime. Other indicators, such as abuse of vulnerability, deception, physical and sexual violence, intimidation, and retention of identity documents, had remained at the same level as before the pandemic.

The Newcastle research found that 85 percent of workers reported paying recruitment fees and 43 percent reported taking out loans averaging more than $2,000 to cover the costs, which took nearly a year on average to repay. Nearly a third reported that their recruitment agency threatened them not to speak about being charged the fees.

During the year several medical glove manufacturers announced repayments to workers based on forced labor practices. By April, Top Glove had reimbursed 150 million ringgit ($36 million) to approximately 13,000 existing and eligible former workers. Kossan completed repaying more than 5,500 workers a total 54 million ringgit ($13 million) with a final transfer of 24 million ringgit ($5.8 million) at the end of June. Hartalega finished its reimbursements process of 41 million ringgit ($9.8 million) to existing workers who joined the firm prior to April 2019. A Hartalega spokesperson announced in August the firm had fully reimbursed all migrant workers who were then employed at Hartalega and was continuing to reimburse eligible former workers. Supermax had repaid nearly 1,750 workers by June and stated it had allocated 23 million ringgit ($5.5 million), including remediation payment to contract workers.

The trial of former deputy prime minister Zahid Hamidi for his role in a fraudulent scheme involving hundreds of thousands of Nepali workers seeking jobs in the country continued as of September. Zahid faced charges filed in 2018 of corruption, money laundering, and taking bribes totaling three million ringgit ($720,000) from a company that ran a visa center for the workers, who paid tenfold higher costs for visa services and medical tests over a five-year period without receiving additional protections or benefits.

Nonpayment of wages remained a concern. Passport confiscation by employers increased migrant workers’ vulnerability to forced labor; the practice was illegal but widespread and generally went unpunished. Migrant workers without access to their passports were more vulnerable to harsh working conditions, lower wages than promised, unexpected wage deductions, and poor housing. NGOs reported that agents or employers in some cases drafted contracts that included a provision for employees to sign over the right to hold their passports to the employer or an agent. Some employers and migrant workers reported that workers sometimes requested employers keep their passports, since replacing lost or stolen passports could cost several months’ wages and leave foreign workers open to questions about their legal status.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits the employment of children younger than 15 but permits some exceptions, such as light work in a family enterprise, work in public entertainment, work performed for the government in a school or in training institutions, or work as an approved apprentice. There is no minimum age for engaging in light work. For children between ages 14 and 18, there was no list clarifying specific occupations or sectors considered hazardous and therefore prohibited.

The government did not effectively enforce laws prohibiting child labor. Those found contravening child labor laws faced penalties that were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

Child labor occurred in some family businesses. Child labor in urban areas was common in the informal economy, including family food businesses and night markets, and in small-scale industry. Child labor was also evident among migrant domestic workers.

NGOs reported that stateless children in Sabah State were especially vulnerable to labor exploitation in palm oil production, forced begging, and work in service industries, including restaurants. Although the National Union of Plantation Workers reported it was rare to find children involved in plantation work in peninsular Malaysia, others reported instances of child labor on palm oil plantations across the country. Child sex trafficking also occurred (see section 6, Children).

Also see the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

Tibet

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report.

Section 7. Worker Rights

See section 7, Worker Rights, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2021 for China.

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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future