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Exclusive-U.S. investigators question Goodyear Malaysia workers over labour practices -Breaking


© Reuters. FILE PHOTO A view of Goodyear’s Shah Alam factory, Malaysia. May 6, 2021. Picture taken May 6, 2021. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng/File Photo


Mei Mei Chu und A. Ananthalakshmi

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – U.S. government investigators have interviewed workers at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co’s Malaysian factory about their working conditions, employees told Reuters, intensifying scrutiny of potential labour abuses by the tyre maker in the country.

The Department of Homeland Security may question one of the biggest tyre companies in the country. It faces two related lawsuits as well as ongoing investigations from regulators in Malaysian and the United States. Each investigation focuses on potential foreign worker exploitation.

The five Goodyear Malaysia workers, current or former, said that Homeland Security Investigations Agents (HSI), have asked for details about their work and living conditions and the court cases filed against Goodyear. Also, a complaint alleging threat from Goodyear employees and workplace accidents was brought to our attention by a police officer.

In video calls over the past 11 months or more, the agents from the main criminal-investigation unit of the Department of Homeland Security also requested documents relating to their employment, said the workers, who asked not to be identified because they feared reprisals.

Reuters was unable to determine which violations HSI seeks to prove.

HSI indicated that they do not comment on investigations ongoing.

Goodyear from Ohio stated it would ensure that its supply chains adhere to both laws and its own policies.

Goodyear Malaysian and Goodyear Malaysia are conducting a detailed review and will retain an independent social auditor to examine working and housing conditions,” Goodyear said in an emailed statement. Goodyear declined to identify the firm.

After initial claims by 185 migrant workers in India, Nepal and Myanmar, the HSI questions were initiated in complaints against Goodyear Malaysia at the country’s Industrial Court in 2019. and 2020. The workers claimed unpaid wages and cited non-compliance to collective agreements, illegal deductions, threats, and harassment of migrant workers.

Goodyear was ordered by the court to pay wages back to workers in May 2020, as well as to adhere to the agreement. Appeal was filed by the company.

Goodyear stated to Reuters that it now has a deal in place with workers involved in the dispute.

In court, the company claimed that the benefits of the collective agreements do not apply to foreign workers because they aren’t union members. The company declined to comment.

Permodalan Nasional Berhad Malaysia is the largest manager of Malaysian funds. It owns 49% Goodyear Malaysia.

FOCUS ON FORCED LABOURRepresentatives from the Malaysian government’s Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Council (MAPO) were also on some of the video calls with HSI, the five workers said.

Workers claimed that Mohd Hadzwan Zulkefle was the former head of MAPO. He said workers were on the calls and told Reuters that the agency had opened an investigation into Goodyear Malaysia for labour trafficking. The date MAPO initiated the investigation, which was not reported previously by him, he did not mention.

He did not comment whether MAPO had collaborated with U.S. authorities.

A spokesperson from MAPO stated to Reuters that they were aware of the Goodyear Malaysian forced labour issue and that “responsible persons” are currently investigating.

Goodyear Malaysia was last year indicted by the Department of Labour of Peninsular Malaysia for violating labor laws. The Department of Labour of Peninsular Malaysia did not respond when Goodyear requested comment. Goodyear has yet to comment on these charges.

After a series of complaints from rights groups, U.S authorities, and U.S. officials over allegations of exploiting migrant workers in plantations and factories, the U.S. State Department downgraded Malaysia in July to its lowest human trafficking ranking.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection are already investigating Goodyear Malaysia over its labour practices. According to Liberty Shared (a rights group) that petitioned Customs, the investigation is underway. The Customs department can prohibit imports from countries where it believes the goods were made using forced labor.

Goodyear failed to respond to queries regarding the MAPO probe.

According to Reuters, in July the company said it wasn’t aware that the petition was being submitted to U.S. Customs. It also stated it has strong policies for protecting human rights.

According to its website, HSI is able to initiate criminal investigations and coordinate criminal prosecutions against American companies and U.S.-bound supply chain partners whose products are made using forced labour.

An official investigation by the HSI “would be very significant because it will shift the discussion about forced labour from business ethics, sustainability, to one that relates criminal law,” stated Duncan Jepson managing director of Liberty Shared, a Hong Kong-based company.

Jepson however stated that one of the challenges to finding wrongdoing is a lack precedent.

He stated that the United States law enforcement prefers to see previous cases in support of their strategies. In forced labour, there is no criminal case against transnational corporations.

Reuters has previously obtained documents that show Goodyear Malaysian employees working more than the 229 hours allowed by Malaysian law. The workers claimed that money had been wrongly deducted from their wages and that they were denied free access to their passports by the company.

Goodyear declined to comment, citing court proceedings.

Malaysia’s labor department stated that Goodyear was being charged in 2020 by Malaysia for nine offences to labour law, which were not related to any lawsuits. They included excessive hours, wrongful deductions of salary, and other violations.

Reuters spoke to five workers who told investigators from HSI that they were unhappy with their company’s facilities, the congestion in their hostels, the fees they paid for recruitment and the fact they did not receive the allowances and salary increases they qualified for.