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A New Portrait of Indentured Labour: Vietnamese Labour Migration to Malaysia

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This paper discusses the recruitment procedure and the gradual loss of autonomy of low-skilled migrant workers in international labour migration, by using the example of Vietnamese workers’ trajectories to Malaysia. It argues that debates on indentured labour and all other forms of bonded labour remain relevant today as new manifestations of the practice are now concealed behind extensive economic exchanges and inter-state economic cooperation. A detailed study of the process of Vietnamese labour migration shows how migratory trajectories that start from ‘voluntary’ indebtedness eventually lead to a status of subordinate and immobilised guest workers in Malaysia. The interrelations between debt and contracts play here a central role. Encouraged by the promising messages of local recruiters and the official support for migration, candidate workers readily consent to sign the triple contracts that will lead them to work in Malaysia. In the process, they gradually get entangled in a web of obligations towards their recruiter, their state (bank) and their employer, leading to severe restrictions in their autonomy over life and work in Malaysia.

Affiliations: 1: Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (Geneva, Switzerland)


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