Due to the rise in global economic markets and the frequency of international trade, investors and employers today are drawn more than ever to regions filled with unskilled labourers to meet market demands for specific goods. However, the recent economic crisis (which began in late 2008 in the United States), has had a profound impact on the labour standards in many Southeast Asian countries. As jobs become scarce, employers are able to push the boundaries of fair and equitable employment policies citing a 'lack of funding' which has limited their viable resources for bettering working conditions and protecting the unionized rights of workers. Therefore, many workers seek employment elsewhere in an attempt to bring in extra money to help support their families back home.
Cambodia suffers from wide spread unemployment and high levels of poverty, partly as a result of the countries' turbulent recent history. National large-scale unemployment has pushed many Cambodians to seek employment in larger cities or overseas, often resulting in irregular migration.4 In Cambodia specifically, it is common for workers to migrate to Thailand, Malaysia or South Korea to work in garment, fisheries, agricultural, construction or domestic service industries. Since Cambodia has only emerged into a market-economy in 1991, there are several issues and key players which shape labour migration and labour policies. However, with minimum education and a lack of access to information relating to their rights, workers are frequently exploited and fall into circles of debt bondage with their employer and/or recruiting agency and run the risk of being subjected to human rights abuses.
Similarly, it is common for many workers to experience the transition from being a legal, documented worker to becoming an undocumented and illegal worker simply by their employers' power (or through the power of their recruiting agency) to prevent access to their passports, visas, work permits and/or other required documents for legal status. Therefore, workers are left at the mercy of many individuals involved in the process of labour migration, who do not always have human rights or even legal policies at the forefront of their economic agenda.
This report will examine the issues faced by Cambodian overseas workers in Thailand, Malaysia and South Korea, identify the existing laws in practice protecting their labour rights and make recommendations for further action by the host country. This report will further examine the power-relationships which sustain inequitable migration dynamics and contribute to the exploitation of overseas workers. The main question which this report seeks to understand is, '
are the laws protecting the issues or are labour rights violations a result of weak laws/weakness in law enforcement and monitoring mechanisms?'
Lastly, this report will encompass the issues and recommendations (where applicable) of three target groups: the labour supply companies, the Cambodian Ministry of Labour and local NGOs, such as CARAM Cambodia and LICADHO, in its examination of current legal labour policies, as well as an overview of the author's recommendations for further action relating to the issue.