Pregnant migrant workers in Asia face discrimination, deportation: report

CHENNAI, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Women migrant workers in parts of Asia risk being deported if they become pregnant, forcing many to have unwanted abortions or abandon their newborns, researchers said on Monday.

Migrant workers in garment and footwear factories are forced to undergo regular pregnancy tests, according to the Fair Labor Association (FLA), a coalition of companies, universities and charities.

In a report, the FLA called for an end to “pregnancy discrimination”, and urged countries to scrap laws that allow or encourage pregnancy tests and the use of contraception as a condition of employment.

The group also encouraged brands - including those who have committed to FLA’s code of conduct, such as Nestle and Hugo Boss - to support initiatives to protect pregnant workers.

“Our affiliates have made a commitment to not discriminate against women who want to become pregnant or who are pregnant,” said Sharon Waxman of the FLA.

“It’s time for the laws of these important manufacturing countries to catch up,” she said in a statement.

There are more than 122 million women working outside their home countries globally, the report states. Many of them find factory jobs in Asian nations like Taiwan, Thailand and Malaysia.

Migrant workers in these countries are under tremendous pressure to finish their contracts so they can continue to financially support their families back home, campaigners say.

The report states that Malaysia - a export manufacturing hub and the largest destination for migrant workers in Southeast Asia - has the most restrictive legal environment for female migrants.

They are required to take a pregnancy test prior to departure from their home country, and on a yearly basis thereafter, according to the report entitled “Triple Discrimination: Woman, Pregnant and Migrant”.

A migrant working in a Malaysian factory found to be pregnant is immediately deported at her own expense. To avoid deportation, many enter the informal workforce where labor laws are often ignored and abuses are common.

“If you don’t have money to pay for an abortion or to break your contract, and you cannot go home, then what else can you do?” the report quoted a worker in Malaysia saying.

While Taiwan bans pregnancy testing and prohibits employers from terminating a pregnant worker, it provides no legal status for their children.

Workers are therefore forced to choose between having abortions, going home, or even abandoning their children to keep their jobs, the report states.

In Thailand, pregnant workers from Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia are eligible for pre and post natal care. But they are subjected to pregnancy tests as part of a general medical exam when they apply for a work permit.