Modern day slavery: The truth to behold


Have Malaysians embraced progress to the point that they are at risk of losing empathy towards other living beings?

Of late, we seem to be reading more and more reports on cruelty; cruelty towards animals, cruelty towards our fellow human beings, cruelty towards nature – cruelty in every sense of the word.

Much has been said about abuse towards domestic and migrant workers, who just like you and me fall under the category of human beings. Yet my question remains: why do we behave so harshly towards another human being? Especially when they are perceived as different from us.

To make myself clear, allow me to put forward these questions with the intentions of bringing about awareness.

What is slavery in a modern sense? Do we practice modern day slavery? How do we treat our domestic help? Do we give them time off? Do we prepare proper sleeping arrangements for them? Do they have sufficient food and rest times? Are they allowed to socialize with people? Are they given substantial pay equivalent to the the job they execute? Do we pay them as we would like to be paid should we be walking in their shoes?

Among other forms of slavery, The Malaysian Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act 670 encompasses fraudulent travel documents, ‘exploitation’ meaning all forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude and any illegal activity.

Forced labor or services can be understood as misleading a person into a certain job, then forcing them to work in another against their wishes.

Slavery or practices similar to slavery can also mean forcing them to work without rest or without time off.

In my quest to shed some light on this subject and obtain some answers, I spoke to friends and families regarding their take on decisions pertaining to their ‘maids’.

Most if not all of my friends, family and acquaintances, have maids.

Almost 95% of them have maids from Indonesia. They do not give their maids a day off unless, it is a maid from the Philippines. Why? The Filipino maids are protected by their contracts to have a day of rest.

I wonder if the employers who do not give their maids a day off know that they are violating basic human rights.

I also wonder if they have any idea of how it would feel like to work 365 days a year without rest. And most importantly, how would it feel like if the roles were reversed?

To be fair and allow for defense, I asked some of these employers the reason for their decision. Many had the same answers.

  • If maids were allowed a rest day where they were able to go out overnight, they may get involved with men who they eventually will bring home when the employers are at work causing security concerns.

  • If they were allowed a day off, they will become lazy.

  • They may get pregnant.

  • They may contract diseases.

  • They may run away.

There were also the other reasons like; employers cannot manage the work themselves, they will not have a rest day themselves, etc.

Sure, I guess these answers are reasonable enough but are they fair? Ultimately, a maid is a human being just like any other person.

They need to rest, to meet friends, to shop, to do the things they want to, just like the rest of us. Where does it say, that they have to be treated differently?

Many a time in restaurants and in shopping malls, I have seen some maids who are either standing or sitting at the same table but not given food or drink whilst their employers dined. They either waited quietly or were busy looking after a child.

When someone is kept under these working conditions; no rest days, treated like they do not exist, maybe the possibilities of all negatives from above may apply. Keep an animal caged up and they run wild when they escape. The same principle applies here.

So how do we ‘let go’ of these ingrained thoughts and fears?

Try making a change, trust a little, practice empathy, try to step into the other person’s shoe and imagine how it feels. Treat your maid humanely; she is a person. She may actually become a better worker when you treat her with respect.

For the people who are practicing modern day slavery, try to think outside the box and move towards change. Take responsibility, become more active with your household work, share some responsibility and most importantly, practice humility.