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Forced labour in Malaysia

Imagine coming home one day and finding out that your brother has been taken away to do forced labour. You don't know when you will see him again, and you can't go to the authorities for help - because they are the ones who took him away. You suspect they will come for you next, so you take what you can on you back, in a suitcase, and leave your country - not knowing when you can come back.
The army committed human rights violations in connection with oil, gas, mining and hydropower development projects, including forced labour, killings, beatings and land confiscation. (Amnesty International 2011 Annual Report)

Imagine the police visiting the house of parents, who are soon to be 60 and looking forward to a quiet retirement. They tell them that their son has been involved with an NGO, and they believe that he is working with an ethnic independence organisation. They say: 'We will come back here tomorrow, and we want to see him here. If not…' - the threat is clear although unspoken. That night, the parents and the son take what they can on their back and leave to the next country.
The government continued to repress ethnic minorities protesting in relation to the elections as well as those who peacefully opposed the impact of development and infrastructure projects on the environment. Authorities also persecuted ethnic minorities for their real or suspected support of armed groups. (Amnesty International 2011 Annual Report)

All this has happened, and is happening, in Burma (aka Myanmar). Many refugees from there have come to Malaysia - there are more than 90,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia, most of whom are from Burma.

Unfortunately for them, Malaysia does not recognise them as refugees, and this means that - amongst other things - they are not allowed to work legally. Because of this, in a bitter irony, many of them find themselves in forced labour right here in Malaysia. They cannot go home and they have to survive, so they take whatever job they can find. Often, unscrupulous and immoral employers exploit them as much as is humanly possible - denying them their full wage, locking them up, and threatening them with denunciation to the police (even though they themselves are doing something illegal by employing them).

The next time you get served by a waiter from Burma - think of this:
San (32), an ethnic Burmese asylum seeker, recalled how he was once confined by agents who promised him a job at the hotel. "He kept me at a house with other people from Burma and Indonesia, including 3 women. We were locked in when they went out. The agent said he would give me a job if available. There were three guards in the agent's house." Workers are usually shuttled back and forth from the restaurant to their living quarters. John is housed in a place he refers to as a "hostel," where he is not allowed visitors. He has to share a small room with five other people. (Witness accounts: Forced labour in the Malaysian service industry)

Or imagine how Min managed to keep his sanity when he was 'sold' for RM1,000 (note: an iPhone costs at least RM1,990) to a plantation owner by a restaurant owner who thought he wasn't "presentable" enough to work in the restaurant. He worked - with no pay - for a year, so that he could 'pay back' the money he was 'bought' with:
Min worked 11 hours a day, even when it rained. He was given only two meals every day, usually only rice and leftover vegetables from the plantation. "The boss gave me a container for me to collect rainwater for bath and other purposes." His main job was to spray insecticide, but he was not given a facemask. He even had to use clothes left by previous workers because the boss refused to "spend more money" on him.

Min said that the experience was really hard for him. "At that time, I couldn't even see myself as a human. The situation really drove me crazy and I felt like I wanted to die." It was also during this time that he heard about the deaths of his mother and younger sister. "There was no one for me to speak to. The pain I felt was unspeakable." (Witness accounts: Forced labour in Malaysian plantations)

Unfortunately, there are many more examples like this. In a recent survey, "61% of refugees and asylum seekers who had worked full-time in Malaysia had experienced forced labor." (See the video below.)


You can't change the world, nor help every refugee and asylum seeker out there, but you can make your voice and indignation heard. Ask the Malaysian government to recognise refugees and asylum seekers as humans who deserve the opportunity to live with dignity, free from exploitation and fear.

Problems, solutions, and podcasts

Problem: I kind of miss blogging
Problem: blogging takes up time which I don't have
Solution: limit blogging time to 15 minutes
Problem: blogging typically takes more than 15 minutes because I want to provide links, photos, given careful and balanced arguments, etc.
Solution: one link and one photo maximum, don't get hung up with having perfect posts. Warn people that:
**What you see below are my unprocessed thoughts, please ask me, or leave a comment, if you want more information or want to question what I'm saying. I may well be wrong.**

Which is what I shall try to do.

14.44

Yesterday I was invited to speak on a podcast, 'Tech Beat' (there goes the link), which is hosted by John Lim. It was interesting and with interesting co-invitees (or whatever they're called).

Anyway, I listen to many podcasts, and often find myself wanting to butt in, or wondering why the person said what they did. But I found out that it's not as easy as it sounds: I came away from the recording wondering if I should have said what I did, and how I could have said it differently.

There's one thing I want to develop a little more. John asked about the impact of blogs on the political scene in Malaysia, and will they make a difference in the next election. I said something about how they were really groundbreaking back in 2004-5, but now many of the SoPo blogs have lost something of their independence (e.g. Jeff Ooi, or Rocky's Bru), and there are also many more pro-government blogs. I concluded by saying that they may make some difference, but the elections will be decided on other things.

The last statement is obvious, people vote based on a whole host of factors.

Anyway, what I should have said was: it's not just blogs anymore. Back in the period leading up to March 2008 blogs were the driving online voice, and they brought a practical information distribution factor that bypassed the MSM, and also a - very important - symbolic energy that encouraged people to speak out and to imagine alternatives.

It's not just blogs. It's all the online media: Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc etc. These have let the cat out of the bag. The powers-that-be will never have it the same again, where they could control information distribution quite effectively. Historically, it goes back before blogs also, to email and websites during the Reformasi period.

OK, that's it

14.59

Olympus XD card in unsustainable packaging

Well, the recent "Hopenhagen" summit turned out to be a dismal failure and an prime example of short-term political and business interests winning it out over good sense.

One of the main problems we face as a human species, is the unsustainable consumerism that pervades the 'development' and 'free market' (as long as it isn't the big banks) discourses that dominate the blinkered minds of the ruling elites.

And here is a little example of how wasteful some practices are:
olympus XD card unsustainable packaging

note the size, think of the plastic needed, the space for transporting thousands of these, etc. It is large so that the consumer feels they're getting something for their money, which is...
olympus XD card unsustainable packaging

A tiny Olympus 2gig XD card!

FAIL!

Appalling standards in Malaysian newspapers

It's often been argued that one reason for the popularity of blogs in Malaysia is the restrictions on the mainstream media (MSM) by the government, which uses laws such as the Printing Presses and Publications Act, and ownership by political parties to ensure a compliant fourth estate.

That seems straightforward enough. But an interviewee (a popular blogger) surprised me by saying that she also thought that the poor quality of women's magazines explained why some blogs that talk about fashion, makeup, etc. are popular. There's no political reason why a woman's magazine should be mediocre: that's only explainable by poor management and/or insufficiently trained manpower.

Anyway - thanks to a tweet by @kruel74, I have come across one of the worst examples of journalism I can remember. Inspired no doubt by the sensationalist potential, The Star online announced "Boob-staring good for men" (click here for a screenshot)
Both Sin Chew Daily and China Press reported that a German research published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that men ogling at breasts for 10 minutes a day was equivalent to a 30-minute gym workout.

Perhaps they were a bit dubious about this patently ridiculous claim, so they made a pitiful attempt to cover their butts
However, it was reported that reporters had attempted to search the article in the journal’s website but failed. Thus, there were doubts whether there was indeed such an article in the journal.

First of all, if there are doubts that it is true, why the heck publish it? The only journalistic reason to do so would be if it was deemed to be of major importance to the public. Is a puerile booby-joke worth infringing basic journalistic fact-checking ethics? I don't think so!

Second. GOOGLE! Within two minutes, I found it on Snopes - the primary source for debunking c**p like this: this particular "Important if true" snippet has been circulating since 1997.

It's not surprising that readership numbers for newspapers are constantly slipping! THREE newspapers managed to print this rubbish!

As a lecturer, I find these kind of poor standards a real barrier to convincing bright, eager and willing students to uphold the highest standards, to not copy and paste, and to look for examples of good practice to follow. For their own self-worth, and to represent Malaysia to the world.

Anyway, I guess the silver lining is that they won't have to try very hard to be better than those they will hopefully replace... :-)

**Edit**: Another blogger Chang Yang who commented (below) found a very similar piece of shoddy journalism in The Star a month ago, it was (probably not coincidentally) also about women's boobs: "Women with bigger breasts found to be smarter" sigh... (click here for a screenshot) He was more responsible than me, and emailed the editor - but to no avail apparently, the article is still online, and being recirculated and requoted by other people (most of whom, including bloggers, haven't bothered to check either - but then again, they're not paid to provide reliable information).

**Edit 07/12/09**: more evidence supplied by Bintulu.org
This 'story' was also apparently picked up by Asian News International, and republished in DailyIndia.com; and asiaone via Asia News Network. My feeling for the two 'wire' services (ANI and ANN), is that they have automatic RSS feeds that come directly from The Star. Anyway, now this story has been given credence (for the credulous) by a leading Malaysian newspaper, cited in each occasion as the source of this story.
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