Dyson splits with Malaysia supplier, stoking concern over migrant worker treatment

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Author of the article:


A. Ananthalakshmi and Liz Lee


Publishing date:

Dec 04, 2021  •  23 minutes in the past  •  6 minute learn  • 

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JOHOR BAHRU — A brief drive throughout the border from Dyson’s new headquarters in Singapore is the boomtown constructed round its enterprise: a Malaysian industrial space dominated by its largest provider, ATA IMS Bhd.

ATA, one among Malaysia’s prime electronics manufacturing providers suppliers, rode Dyson’s success in high-end vacuum cleaners and air purifiers, supplying components for a corporation that got here to account for 80% of its income.


Ten present and former workers, and a former ATA government, say the expansion got here at an unseen value: its largely migrant work pressure labored as much as 15 hours a day, have been usually requested to skip relaxation days to maintain up with demand, and have been coached to cover true working and residing situations from labor inspectors and Dyson.

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In interviews over the final two months, the workers additionally say ATA, which analysts say is Dyson’s largest international contract producer, employed 1000’s of foreigners with out work permits.

After questions from Reuters on Nov. 18, Dyson final month stated it could pull its enterprise from ATA in six months, citing a current unbiased audit on situations for employees and allegations by an unidentified whistleblower.


ATA stated in a press release it was audited by the Responsible Business Alliance (RBA), a physique broadly engaged by electronics companies to conduct manufacturing unit audits. RBA hires third-party auditors for the inspections. It declined to remark.

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On Nov. 29, ATA stated it had seen the abstract of Dyson’s audit, which discovered poor residing situations, considerations of retaliation and unpaid allowances, amongst different points. It described the findings as “non-conclusive” and stated it was reviewing them. Reuters has not seen the audit.

ATA declined to remark, and referred Reuters to its current public statements.

Dyson stated on Tuesday it wouldn’t remark as a result of the accusations associated to ATA.

Malaysia on Wednesday stated it could cost ATA over complaints it had acquired by the labor division. It didn’t say what the costs or complaints have been about or whether or not they associated to the employees’ accusations about its Dyson factories.

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The nation’s human sources minister, M. Saravanan, stated pressured labor allegations at Malaysian firms have been hurting international traders’ confidence in merchandise manufactured there. He had earlier stated the federal government was investigating Dyson’s determination to separate with ATA.

After Dyson’s transfer, ATA shares dropped 60%. Some analysts have raised doubts about ATA’s capacity to draw new clients, and on Nov. 29 a press release from the agency forecast income declines and price cuts.

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With Dyson’s departure, six employees and shopkeepers interviewed within the Johor Bahru industrial space stated they feared they may lose their livelihoods.

“There is no guarantee of a job here anymore,” stated one off-duty ATA worker, carrying his royal-blue manufacturing unit work shirt on a current Sunday. Like others, he requested to not be recognized for worry of reprisal.

ATA formally employs round 8,000 employees, though 4 ATA employees and the previous government estimated its workforce had been as excessive as 17,000 till lately, together with these with out permits. Most of 17,000 have been from Bangladesh and Nepal, in accordance with the employees and government.


ATA’s factories are concentrated in adjoining industrial parks in suburban Johor Bahru, a 30-minute drive to Singapore, the place Dyson is headquartered.

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ATA posted report income of 4.2 billion ringgit ($991.74 million) for the fiscal yr that resulted in March. Dyson, owned by British billionaire James Dyson, accounted for almost $800 million of that.

Analysts say the elevated scrutiny of Malaysia might improve manufacturing prices and deter traders. The United States has banned six Malaysian companies within the final two years over accusations of pressured labor.

“Cost will definitely move up because a lot more care has to be taken into account, not just on recruitment but also worker accommodation. The ramifications are significantly higher costs for labor,” stated Vincent Khoo, head of Malaysia analysis at brokerage UOB Kay Hian.

Malaysia, which makes every part from iPhone elements to semiconductors, is reliant on electrical and electronics manufacturing particularly for exports and financial development. Between January and October 2021, such merchandise accounted for 36% of whole exports.

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Foreigners make up about 10% – 1.48 million – of Malaysia’s work pressure, in accordance with authorities knowledge, although that proportion is greater within the manufacturing sector. The authorities and labor teams estimate hundreds of thousands extra undocumented migrants.


Until lately, audits of ATA had not revealed any points, in accordance with ATA and Dyson. A 2020 audit gave ATA an ideal rating on working situations, ATA stated in May. Dyson didn’t verify that rating.

The workers advised Reuters that ATA supervisors coached manufacturing unit employees on what to inform auditors. Two stated supervisors advised them that in the event that they advised the reality about working situations, Dyson would minimize its orders with ATA.

In July, an ATA supervisor instructed employees in a WhatsApp group to inform auditors they didn’t work on Sundays and labored not more than three hours of extra time per day. The supervisor has not responded to repeated calls from Reuters. According to employees and payslips seen by Reuters, employees repeatedly labored Sundays and as much as six hours of extra time.

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“We need your cooperation… Please brief all the employee… to avoid issue during audit,” learn the message, dated July 2 and seen by Reuters.

Employees additionally stated the plant had been cleaned and security gear distributed forward of audits, and that employees with out permits have been requested to remain away.

When Dyson officers visited, ATA stopped Sunday work and in the reduction of on extra time, the workers stated. ATA and Dyson declined to remark.


The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) opened an investigation into ATA in April over unethical recruitment practices and poor working and residing situations, in accordance with unbiased labor rights activist Andy Hall, who sought the inquiry. He confirmed Reuters a letter dated April 19 from the company informing him of the investigation. CBP declined to remark.

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Nepalese nationwide Dhan Kumar Limbu, 32, stated folks working with Hall contacted him in April as a part of his investigation into ATA, and Limbu stated he shared particulars about working and residing situations with them. Hall confirmed Limbu’s account.

Limbu stated that in June, ATA officers took him to a police station, the place he was questioned about sharing info with activists, then overwhelmed by police. He fled Malaysia and is now again in Nepal. Limbu advised Reuters he advised Dyson’s legal professionals concerning the ATA working situations in an interview on Oct. 1.

Dyson didn’t determine the whistleblower by identify however stated in a press release to Reuters final month that “We immediately commissioned an international law firm to undertake a full investigation and provided the whistle-blower with support that enabled them to assist with the investigation.” Dyson didn’t say which agency it had retained.

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ATA additionally employed a regulation agency to assessment Limbu’s claims and stated in a press release final week that preliminary findings point out “the allegations may be unjustified.” The police have stated they’re investigating whether or not officers beat Limbu.

Employees stated ATA began to make some modifications for the reason that accusations got here to mild in May, when it first publicly denied the allegations. The firm reimbursed some employees 7,000 ringgit in July for what they paid labor brokers of their house nations, in accordance with Limbu, different employees and payslips seen by Reuters.

ATA additionally stopped using international employees with out permits and closed a crowded dorm that had housed 60 folks to a room, employees stated.

Limbu and different workers Reuters interviewed stated Dyson ought to have stayed to make sure working and residing situations improved for migrant employees.

“My intention to share information was to improve conditions for the workers and get rest days. But now with Dyson’s decision, people will lose jobs,” Limbu stated.

(Reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi and Liz Lee; Editing by Kay Johnson, Kevin Krolicki and Gerry Doyle)

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