UN Conference on Racism (WCAR)

Posted on 01 March 2001



WAO's Participation at the Asia/Middle East NGO Forum, Teheran, Iran 17 - 18 February

Two staff members from WAO recently returned from the Asia/Middle East NGO Forum held in Iran, 17 - 18 February. This NGO Forum was attended by many different organisations from around the region to join working groups on a variety of issues. WAO participated in the Working Group on Racism Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance Against Migrants and Trafficked Persons.

In the context of Malaysia and WAO's work, WAO raised the issue of discrimination faced by Malaysia's many foreign domestic workers, most of whom are women. The Immigration Department estimates that there are over 2 million foreign workers in Malaysia of which there are160,000 foreign workers hired as domestic help. However, these figures represent the documented workers and do not take into account foreign workers who have entered the country illegally.


Foreign Domestic Workers are especially vulnerable to abuse. While Foreign Domestic Workers are deemed to be needed by households, too often they are perceived as undesirable aliens, who must be stringently controlled. They are regarded as uneducated labour with values and cultures perceived as inferior to Malaysia's. Employers often regard themselves as superior, and do not respect the domestic worker as an equal human being.

WAO is lobbying for specific changes in law and policy. We also want changes in attitudes towards foreign maids. We will continue to lobby the press to raise the agenda of foreign domestic worker rights, and to educate the public on the rights of foreign maids - and that abuse is a violation of her human rights and punishable by law.

WAO recommendations:

  1. Form a Joint Action Group among NGOs to lobby for the rights and protection of foreign domestic workers.
  2. Lobby for the ratification of the International Convention on the Protection of Rights of all Migrants and Members of their Families.
  3. Develop a Multi-Agency Approach with a sectretariat (e.g. the Labour Department) to handle all cases of abuse, in cooperation with the police, immigration, hospitals and NGOs.
  4. The implementation of a Fair and Standard Employment Contract between workers and employers, establishing workers rights and employers responsibilities.
  5. Special permission to work from the Immigration Department for domestic workers who are awaiting completion of investigations or going through trial, to be able to work in another home in order to earn a living.
  6. Arrival orientations for foreign domestic workers to be conducted by the Ministry of Human Resources and Labour Department on their rights, including providing workers with emergency telephone numbers and other resources for dealing with abuse.
  7. The publication of A Guide for Employers, by the Ministry of Human Resources, outlining employers' responsibilities, application processes and a list of offences and their penalties under law.
  8. Public Education Campaign promoting recognition of household work and a greater understanding of the rights of domestic workers and continued warning that it is an offence to abuse your worker.

Declaration of the Asia Pacific NGO Forum

The Migrants and Trafficked Persons Working Group produced a comprehensive Declaration on Racism, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance Against Migrants and Trafficked Persons. The issues, problems and recommendations identified in this Declaration have been incorporated into the main Declaration of the Iran NGO Forum, which deals not only with Migrants and Trafficked Persons, but many other issues too. This main Declaration is used to lobby the official Governmental meetings.

Extract from the Declaration of the Asia Pacific NGO Forum, Teheran, Iran - February 17-18, 2001

Migrants and Trafficked Persons Section:

The restructuring of the global economy facilitates the movement of capital across national borders but restricts and controls labour. This feature exacerbates regional economic inequalities and the demand for the cheapest, most flexible and deregulated labour, has become a major contributing factor to international migration. This process has resulted in the outflow of millions of workers, including large numbers of women, from the less developed to the more developed countries within and outside the region.

The discrimination experienced by most migrant workers is manifested in restrictive immigration and labour laws and policies; the denial of trade union rights; exploitative working conditions, low wages and non-payment of wages; lack of access to public services such as health, housing and social security. In this context women migrant workers experience multiple forms of discrimination.

The large-scale movement of persons using legal and non-legal methods is another phenomenon that gives rise to various manifestations of racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia. Trafficking persons for the exploitation of their labour and sexuality has been described as a contemporary form of slavery. Another major phenomenon in migration is the organised movement of displaced persons and asylum seekers which is often described as human smuggling or migrant smuggling.

Race-based discrimination against documented and undocumented migrants, migrant workers and trafficked persons is structural in nature and contravene international standards. These persons suffer gross violations of their human rights due to the lack of legal protection and redress mechanisms, and are vulnerable to a range of abuse and violence. Legal and policy frameworks that enable states to make a distinction between citizens and non-citizens in terms of enjoyment of rights lay the foundation for these forms of discrimination.

The comodification of women within the international labour market which confines women to certain specific sectors of employment such as the entertainment industry and domestic work, is a reflection of patriarchal, sexist and discriminatory ideologies.

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