Temporary migrant workers at garment and footwear factories in the Southeast Asia region face discrimination and are at risk of being deported when they are found pregnant, according to recent report released by the Fair Labor Association (FLA).
From its interviews with female migrant workers along with in-depth discussions with experts, the FLA revealed that these workers routinely face discrimination due to pregnancy laws designed to target them. Migrant workers in Malaysia, Taiwan, and Thailand are often required to undergo mandatory pregnancy tests or even face deportation if employers found about their pregnancy. Poor implementation of migrant laws and regulations supposed to protect their employment rights was also considered among the factor that leads to such pregnancy discrimination.
Among the three countries studied, the report found that Malaysia has the most restrictive legal environment for female migrant workers. These workers are required to do a pregnancy test before departing from their home country, and on an annual basis thereafter. If a migrant worker is found carrying a child, she will be deported immediately at her own expense.
Meanwhile, Taiwan already bans pregnancy testing during recruitment and employment of migrant workers. The country also prohibits employers from terminating and departing pregnant worker. However, while these protections mark significant improvement, Taiwan is yet to provide legal status for the children of migrant workers when they are born. This means that the country allows pregnancy for migrant workers, but then discriminates against the mother and the child once the child is born.
Unlike other destination countries for migrant workers, in Thailand pregnant workers from Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia are not deported from Thailand when pregnant and are eligible for pre- and post-natal care. However, it should be noted that female migrant workers are required to take a pregnancy test as part of general medical exam when they apply for a work permit. The FLA report said that such practice will leave workers at the risk for pregnancy discrimination by employers.
According to the report, more than 122 million women across the globe are working outside their home country, including in Taiwan, Thailand, and Malaysia. Temporary migrant workers are mostly employed to fill factory jobs, where the workers are disproportionately young and female. When compared to local workers, migrant workers tend to lack legal and social protections, which put them at a greater risk for discrimination and harm.
The FLA report offers some recommendation to improve migrant workers’ condition in these countries. For both medium to long-term, brands should advocate for strong non- discrimination protections for women and migrant workers in countries where they source, and also in the origin countries of their workers. It also calls on brands to raise workers’ awareness of their rights, support civil society initiatives to protect pregnant migrant workers, while providing redress mechanisms for those experiencing discrimination.