The rights group Adhoc on Tuesday called for more government control of labor agencies, which it says have been responsible for abuses against migrant workers abroad.
There are more than 30 labor recruitment agencies with licenses from the Ministry of Labor, the group said, but some of the businesses operate more like human traffickers than helpful recruiters.
Adhoc has so far this year received 28 reports of worker violations from employers in Malaysia, including non-stop work, beatings, food deprivation and rape. It has also documented 23 violations of labor rights.
The Cambodian government has promoted migrant work abroad as one way to ease unemployment.
“We want to have a special legal instrument for managing Cambodian migrant workers, as they've suffered from different violations from local labor recruitment agencies and their bosses in Malaysia,” Kea Sophal, an Adhoc attorney, told reporters Tuesday.
Adhoc is recommending a monitoring mechanism to oversee working conditions, legal documentation and contracts between agencies and workers.
“The labor recruitment agencies must open an opportunity for the concerned government ministries and non-governmental organizations to observe in the places where the workers are staying before leaving for jobs abroad,” the group said in a statement.
Sok Chanpheakdey, secretary-general for the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies, which has 16 company members, said he also encouraged a better government mechanism to protect workers.
Nhem Kimhouy, director of the employment office for the Ministry of Labor, said the ministry does counsel recruitment agencies in an effort to prevent worker violations.
According to a circular, the ministry now prohibits agencies from providing loans to workers' families and also seeks to control the spread of agent networks.
Sok Chanpheakdey said that the 16 agencies in his association will respect the ministry guidelines. But he acknowledged that other businesses may not.
“Some labor recruitment agencies provide loans to recruited workers, and when they've asked not to go abroad to work, the agencies pressure them to pay back [the loan],” he said. “If we depend on the law, that loan provision is an act of human trafficking.”