We had the unique opportunity of experiencing the interior and integral regions of the Oil Palm plantations in the Sabah region of Malaysia. Due to their tedious working condition in the remote areas, workers in the oil palm plantations were usually accommodated deep inside the plantations. They were confined to the wooden longhouses or individual small houses as their residence of accommodation as they have no proper housing facilities for the laborers. They had to depend on rainwater for their daily consumption of potable water. Oil plantations workers were not able to travel to nearby smaller towns for food or basic amenities due to the lack of proper transportation facilities available due to which they were only able to leave according to their supervisors. Vegetables and leaves from the plantation were the only food sources available for their daily needs and were therefore very vulnerable to exploitation as well. On the contrary, the labor employed in the Oil Palm plantation for harvesting, cutting, spraying pruning, etc., were not a bunch of local workers but were foreign migrant workers from Indonesia and the Philippines. This observation had brought about a thought into our minds which then further manifested into three questions,
Why is an increase in foreign labor than the locals present?
Why aren’t the local workers interested in this work? and,
What is the genuine reason behind the influx of foreign workers?
And these questions are the root cause behind this study conducted on Oil Palm plantation workers in Malaysia. During the later visits, it was found out that the migrant workers were in a state of ‘statelessness’, which meant that they were in a situation that rendered them obsolete of a citizenship right from any country. A majority of the foreign laborers were brought into Malaysia from the poverty-ridden areas of Indonesia and the Philippines, where there was a high rate of unemployment. Such people are called into the job by deceptive profiles and then illegally brought into the country where they’re forced to stay in remote areas for work.
This increased our urge to know about the Oil Palm plantations, and upon further research, it was revealed to us that a severe human right violation was happening in the area which included forced labor, child labor, gender discrimination, exploitive work practices and even sexual assaults on women. This claim has also been supported by the reports from Amnesty International. Such issues were widely noticed in smallholding Oil Palm plantations and the only research literature available was from NGOs and sources like the United States Department of Labor. So, we took an initiative to explore the various issues and research extensively in such areas, quantitative research had also been applied to identify the precarious working conditions. The objective of this research is to push forward the policymakers and the plantation management to bring about a change in the management and system in order to ensure better working and living conditions for the laborers.
Dileep Kumar M. Normala S. G.