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Turning the Table on the Exploitative Recruitment of Migrant Workers: The Cambodian Experience

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Abstract In 2009, regular labour migration from Cambodia to Malaysia grew at a rapid rate. As the result of a ban imposed by Indonesia, Cambodia’s private sector responded by immediately recruiting to fill the void. The number of women recruited, trained and sent to Malaysia was too high for the Cambodian Government to keep track of and by 2010 reports of underage recruitment, debt bondage and abuse in training centres were growing. Unable to control the recruitment agencies and with growing numbers of reports of abuse in Malaysia, Cambodia banned the sending of domestic workers to Malaysia in 2011. Since this ban, the government has been working to strengthen the system of labour migration management. The changes under way do little, however, to address the specific problems that existed before the ban. In addition, in developing initiatives that are restricted to the establishment of an agreement with Malaysia, increasing regulation and improving conditions in training centres, Cambodia is missing an opportunity to establish a comprehensive and self-sustainable system of protection, welfare and support for migrant workers. Cambodia has a unique opportunity to set up enduring systems that can regulate recruiters and protect migrants as the sector expands to other countries and other industries. In not taking full advantage of this opportunity, there is a real chance that this ban will not be the last.


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