In countries where the local workforce is insufficient to meet the employment demand in garment and footwear factories, employers rely heavily on temporary migrant workers to fulfill their production needs. According to the United Nations, women now comprise fully half of the 244 million migrants that work abroad.
Migrant workers are often more vulnerable to discrimination and harm as compared to local workers, because they almost always lack the same legal and social protections. In the ready-made garment sector, these workers are typically young and female, and may work in a country for several years, confronting discriminatory workplace practices beyond those experienced by local workers.
This precarious status can lead to many forms of discrimination. For example, female migrant workers routinely suffer from pregnancy discrimination due to inequitable laws, or poor implementation of existing laws and regulations. Migrant workers may be subjected to mandatory pregnancy testing in their home country as part of the application process for a job overseas. Discrimination prior to employment may be overlooked by brands focusing due diligence efforts on current conditions in factories.
Depending on their destination, they may also be subject to pregnancy testing as a condition for continued employment throughout their contract period. While this type of pregnancy discrimination is legal in some countries, such as in Thailand and Malaysia, and banned in others, such as in Taiwan, pregnancy testing has been commonly associated with forced deportation, and loss of employment and income among women migrant workers.
In many destination countries for migrant workers, government policies, particularly related to immigration control, deliberately curtail migrants’ rights, complicating efforts to eliminate discrimination even by brands that seek to do so. This study found that for brands sourcing from Taiwan, Thailand, and Malaysia, some form of pregnancy or maternity discrimination is unavoidable if their suppliers employ migrant workers.
The FLA’s full report on the situation in these three countries appears below, along with recommendations for brands and governments seeking to reduce discrimination faced by female temporary migrant workers who may become pregnant.