Abuse of Workers in Southeast Asia

6 June 2016

There’s a saying in the Philippines that goes, kids who grew old making a living.  It is a very accurate way of describing them.  Aged 5 to 17, stunted in height, looking twice as old as their years, some handling machines 50 times their weight that could crush them, many hidden behind fifteen-foot factory walls with armed guards, some locked up in cubicles of prostitution dens, some of the workers as young as four years old, and numbering to more than 3.7 million in this small country alone (Arroyo, 1999, 1).  Child labor is a daunting reality that countries from the third world are trying to eradicate.

Meanwhile, in India, Primark, Britain’s cut-price clothing chain, opted to terminate their contracts and withdraw all their future orders with their Indian suppliers after it was found out that the companies have been using child labor as a means for cost-cutting.          After detailed investigations, it was discovered that these Indian companies had sub-contracted out works like embroidery and sequin to various unregistered businesses that employ children as young as 9 year old (Hawkes, 2008).

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In Thailand and Bangladesh, police have raided shrimp processing factories due to reports of medieval slave-like conditions of its workers.  Workers who made mistakes in the shrimp peeling line or simply asked for a sick leave, or those who tried to escape, were beaten, sexually molested, or tortured in public (CNN, 2008).

One of the factories, Ranya Paew, was described by the police as looking more like a fortress than a factory, with barbed-wired 16-foot-high walls, armed guard force, and an internal CCTV (CNN, 2008).  Aside from that, those who manage to irritate the employer were humiliated in public by shaving their heads in patches.  Women were made to strip naked and beaten publicly as a form of punishment.  In another major shrimp processing company in Thailand, workers complained of non payment and forced overtime if the quotas were not met.  They also complained of exposure to harsh chemicals, absence of first-aid kits, no health care, poor ventilation and contaminated drinking water supply (CNN, 2008).

The average daily salary in a third world country is only $5 (Arroyo, 1999, 1).

The worldwide shrimp industry is estimated at $13 billion annually (CNN, 2008).

Despite of all these labor rights violations, which included child labor, human trafficking, sexual assault, and others, the owner of these companies were only charged with hiring children under 15, and failing to provide holidays and day off. His fine was only about $2,100 and has continued operations since then.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) defines child labor as, employing children below 15 years old in factories and industries where they are not directly under the supervision of their parents (Arroyo, 1999, 1).  The situation only becomes more intricate in these countries because it is the parents themselves who force their children into working, occasionally even acting as employers of these child workers (Arroyo, 1999, 1).


Child labor, forced labor, withholding of employees’ wages and benefits, prostitution, and other forms of workers’ abuse can be traced to poverty.  Societies with more poverty-stricken population manifested more of these types of problems (Arroyo, 1999, 1).   Thus, it can be regarded primarily as an economic problem more than anything else.

Perhaps with more stringent government guidelines and provisions, instances of these types can be lessened.  Governments must provide available and fast access for support systems for these families, like cottage industry, technical assistance/trainings, and even non-collateral loans as preliminary steps against this economic and social dilemma.


Arroyo, D. (1999). Child labor in the Philippines: Exploiting innocence. (1999, November 28). Philippine Daily Inquirer, p. C1.

Hawkes, S. (2008) Primark sacks suppliers over use of child labour. (2008, June 16). Times Online. Retrieved March 28, 2009 from <http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/retailing/article4147524.e>

Paper alleges abuse in Asia shrimp industry. (2008, April 23). CNN. Retrieved March 28, 2008, from <http://edition.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/asiapct/04/23/shrimp.workers.report/index.html>

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