A Japanese multinational company is demanding RM10 million by today and a public apology from lawyer-activist-blogger Charles Hector after he highlighted problems faced by Myanmar migrants working at the firm’s plant in Malaysia.
Asahi Kosei (M) Sdn Bhd claims the workers are not employed by the firm and are instead supplied by an unnamed third party and that Hector had thus defamed Asahi Kosei through his blog postings by suggesting that the firm was responsible for the alleged poor treatment of the workers. Before he was slapped with the RM10 million demand, Hector had sent two e-mails on 8 and 9 February 2011 to the company expressing concern about the workers’ problems – but did not receive any reply, clarification or denial.
Hector had also released a joint statement, endorsed by 82 civil society groups and published on his blog, to express concern about the workers’ plight.
This is an issue that extends well beyond the case at hand in its significance.
There are two major areas of concern that should be nipped in the bud:
First, an issue of freedom of expression: It is not just governments that are stifling freedom of expression. Multinational corporations too, as they grow in reach and influence, are now flexing their (economic) muscles; some of them now think that all media coverage about them should be favourable and fawning. Like many governments, some of these MNCs and large corporations think they too can silence critics. This issue may grow even more serious as more MNCs set up shop here with the signing of all those Free Trade Agreements.
Second, an issue of workers’ rights: As former MTUC president Syed Shahir, in a statement of concern released today, says, some corporations now think they can escape their responsibility to workers by using workers supplied by third parties.
It may be all right for agents and companies to assist companies in identifying and providing workers for companies, but the moment the companies accept these workers, there must immediately be an employment agreement and relationship with all these workers directly and the said company. The workers thereafter are the workers of the said company, and the company shall be fully responsible for the recognition and protection of all workers’ rights.
Any good company that respects universally accepted human rights and workers’ rights will not resort to using workers of another at their factories, and will not shirk their responsibilities to their workers with claims that they are not their workers, and when there are allegations of workers’ rights violations to try and divert this responsibility to workers to some other third party.
Since then, more than 50 local and foreign civil society groups have rallied to Hector’s side by endorsing a fresh joint statement, published on the Aliran website, expressing outrage at the firm for its “intimidation” of the blogger.
Because of the larger significance of this case, it is likely to receive international attention as an attempt to silence freedom of expression over an issue of public interest that involves workers’ rights.