Life in the cramped living quarters of Polar Twin Advance’s workers.
FALLS CHURCH, VA July 8, 2008 – The Coalition to Abolish Modern-day Slavery in Asia (CAMSA) today launches a campaign to stop the abuse of foreign workers by Polar Twin Advance, a Malaysia-based manufacturer of electromedical equipment with sizeable Finnish investments.
“We’re working through legal, diplomatic, and business channels to ensure that Polar Twin Advance stops its abuses,” said Dr. Nguyen Dinh Thang, executive director of the US-based nonprofit Boat People SOS, a CAMSA coalition member. “We’re excited to find out that two of the firm’s key investors are Finnish, because the Finns have a strong record on labor and human rights.”
For over a year, Polar Twin Advance has paid the workers substantially less than the level agreed in their contracts. After multiple unanswered petitions, on May 8 of this year, 69 Vietnamese and 19 Indonesian workers demanded to speak to the firm’s managing director, who called in the police to disperse the workers. Under threat of detention, 30 Vietnamese workers went back to work. The remaining 39 Vietnamese and 19 Indonesian workers insisted on talking to the management.
The following day, these workers found themselves locked in their dormitory and barred from work. “We asked the guards why we were blocked from leaving the dormitory and catching the bus to go to work, and we got no answer,” reads a statement signed by 33 workers and obtained by BPSOS.
The workers called the Vietnamese labor export firms that had sent them abroad, as well as the Malaysian broker and the Vietnamese embassy, but none could or would help. Soon after, Polar Twin Advance sent home seven Vietnamese and 15 Indonesian workers viewed as strike leaders.
Without income, the captive workers had to sneak out of their dormitory to forage for food. On June 10, the supervisor told the Vietnamese workers that they must sign a statement apologizing to the firm and accepting its pay regime in order to return to work. Five accepted the terms. Three others, whose passports had been taken by management, fled to Kuala Lumpur and paid for travel documents in order to go home. Over 30 Vietnamese workers are still held in their dormitory.
“We are encouraging the Malaysian government to investigate and prosecute Polar Twin Advance for gross violations of Malaysia’s new Anti-Trafficking in Persons Law (Act 670),” said Dr. Thang. “CAMSA is also helping the affected workers initiate civil suits against Polar Twin Advance.”
The two major investors in Polar Twin Advance are Polar Electro, a Finland-based maker of heart-rate monitors, and FinnFund, an investment firm with 80 percent of its shares owned by the State of Finland. Besides initiating work with these investors, CAMSA is reaching out to major Polar Twin Advance corporate customers such as CAP-XX, an Australia-based maker of electronic capacitors.