MTC Committed Towards Better Migrant Workers Management

MTC CEO Mr. Muhtar Suhaili delivering his welcoming remarks.

The Malaysian Timber Council (MTC) has boldly taken a step forward in addressing the pressing issue of forced labour to show its commitment towards human rights and upholding labour standards with a seminar on the effective management of migrant workers, at the Le Meridien Hotel here, on 8 August 2022.

The seminar, titled “Enhanced Social Compliance Practices in Employment of Migrant Workers in the Malaysian Timber Industry”, had renowned Migrant Worker Rights Specialist Mr. Andy Hall as a keynote speaker together with Mr. Arulkumar Singaraveloo, who is the co-founder of the Malaysia HR Forum.


“The issue of migrant workers and their state of affairs, including forced labour, is of concern to the MTC. The situation has become dire to a point that it is affecting our businesses. It is time to address these challenges head-on,” said MTC CEO Mr. Muhtar Suhaili.

“This seminar was an important step forward for the Malaysian timber industry. Challenges revolving around migrant workers welfare and prevention of forced labour will increasingly become mandatory for doing business globally,” said Mr. Hall.

“Timber industry players need to get a better understanding about unethical recruitment and exorbitant recruitment fees which lead to debt bondage for migrant workers. The recruitment process starts in the villages of these workers where they are promised certain things but when they arrive in the country, it’s a totally different scenario,” said Mr. Arulkumar.

“Whereas now it’s only the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that imposes trade enforcement action or issues Withhold Release Orders (WRO). Countries like Canada and Europe will eventually follow suit in the near future,” said Mr. Hall, adding that it is important not to be subjected to US sanctions.

Mr. Arulkumar said it is more expensive for companies to be non-compliant than compliant as the fines and loss of business earnings can run into millions of dollars when companies become embroiled in forced labour scandals.

“If employers can be compliant to even Malaysian laws, then they have automatically fulfilled at least 60% to 70% of international social compliance regulations concerning forced labour,” said Mr. Arulkumar.

He highlighted the 11 International Labour Organisations (ILO) Forced Labour Indicators while providing an overview on ethical recruitment frameworks.

Mr Arul said the key areas of concern for MTC members were related to high recruitment fees which lead to the migrant workers’ situation debt bondage, deceitful employment, or false promises, withholding of wages and documents such as passports, movement restrictions, and deplorable living conditions as some of the issues affecting migrant workers.

“It’s a simple rule of treating every human being with dignity that the timber industry members need to follow,” said Mr. Hall.

MTC’s Board of Trustee member, Mr. George Yap, who was one of the panelists, said the seminar will serve as a steppingstone for more proactive measures to be taken by the industry towards better management of migrant workers in the timber industry.

Mr. Muhtar said it was also vital that issues revolving around forced labour be addressed as strong emphasis is now being placed globally on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) initiatives in businesses.

“Safeguarding workers’ rights, be it locals or foreigners, to ensure the sustainability of the industry in accordance with ESG and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is important. This is also in line with MTC’s Business Plan for 2022 under the ‘ESG Initiatives’ pillar and it is one of the reasons why we have organized this seminar,” he said.

Mr. Muhtar also lauded the timely launch of the Malaysian governments National Action Plan on Forced Labour (NAPFL) 2021-2025 which focuses on awareness, enforcement, labour migration as well as access to remedy and support services with the aim of putting an end to forced labour practices by 2030.

He also said that MTC is now drafting its ESG Charter which will serve as a guide for Malaysian timber industry players to refer and adopt in their businesses. The Charter will be ready in the fourth quarter of 2022.