Triple Discrimination: FLA Finds Systemic Pregnancy Discrimination Against Female Migrant Workers in Southeast Asia
Today, the Fair Labor Association (FLA), released a report on pregnancy discrimination among temporary migrant workers in Malaysia, Taiwan, and Thailand. Through interviews with workers and in-depth discussions with experts, the FLA found that female migrant workers in these countries routinely face discrimination due to pregnancy laws designed to target them, or poor implementation of laws and regulations intended to protect them. Female migrant workers are especially at risk because they face three levels of discrimination: as a woman, as a pregnant person, and as a migrant worker.
“Pregnancy discrimination, including mandatory testing or deportation of workers found to be pregnant, may be legally sanctioned in certain countries, but that doesn’t make it right,” said Sharon Waxman, President and CEO of the FLA. “FLA-affiliated brands are required to comply with all the local laws and regulations of a country, and also to apply the highest standards of worker protection. Our affiliates have made a commitment to not discriminate against women who want to become pregnant or who are pregnant. It’s time for the laws of these important manufacturing countries to catch up.”
Worldwide, more than 122 million women work outside their home country, many of them in Southeast Asia, including in Taiwan, Thailand, and Malaysia. These countries rely on temporary migrant workers to fill factory jobs, where the workers are disproportionately young and female. Compared to local workers, migrant workers almost always lack the same legal and social protections and are often at greater risk for discrimination and harm.
Among the three countries studied, Malaysia has the most restrictive legal environment for female migrant workers. Pregnancy testing is required prior to departure from their home country, and on a yearly basis thereafter. If a migrant worker is found to be pregnant, she will be deported immediately and at her own expense.
Taiwan bans pregnancy testing at the point of recruitment and during employment, and prohibits employers from terminating and deporting a migrant worker who becomes pregnant. While these protections are a significant improvement from its past practice of mandatory pregnancy testing, Taiwan provides no legal status for the children of migrant workers once they are born. Taiwan essentially allows pregnancy for migrant workers, but 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. Yet female migrant workers are subject to a pregnancy test as part of a general medical exam when they apply for a work permit and, as a result, could be at risk for pregnancy discrimination by employers.
While the severity of the impact on temporary migrant workers varies in each of the countries, the report offers specific recommendations for improvement for the governments of Malaysia, Thailand, and Taiwan, and for the brands sourcing from those countries.
In the 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. In addition, the report calls on brands to take additional steps, such as raising workers’ awareness of their rights, supporting civil society initiatives to protect pregnant migrant workers, and providing redress mechanisms for those experiencing discrimination.
Ultimately, the report calls on governments to cease all mandatory pregnancy testing for migrant workers; however, amending national rules and regulations takes time. In the meantime, companies that are serious about addressing pregnancy discrimination should not wait, but can act now by advocating for change and pursuing innovative solutions to ensure the rights of the workers manufacturing their products are respected.
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The Fair Labor Association promotes and protects workers’ rights and improves workplace conditions through collaboration between business, civil society, and colleges and universities. The FLA conducts transparent and independent monitoring to ensure that rigorous labor standards are upheld wherever FLA affiliates source their products, identifies root causes of non-compliances, and proposes solutions to workplace problems.
The FLA gratefully acknowledges the work of Dovelyn Rannveig Mendoza, writer of this report. Prior to August 2017, Dovelyn served as senior policy analyst for the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit the FLA commissioned to conduct this research. The FLA thanks MPI for the support and recognizes the urgency of MPI’s work to respond to the challenges and opportunities that large-scale migration presents to communities and institutions in an increasingly integrated world.