ATA’s workers take class action against Dyson in UK, claim compensation

A GROUP of migrant workers in a Malaysian factory which predominately manufactured products for Dyson have launched legal claims against the UK home appliance maker in relation to allegations of extensive violations of their legal rights, including forced labour, physical and psychological injuries, false imprisonment, cruel and degrading treatment and exposure to extremely hazardous working conditions.

The claimants all worked at a factory owned by Johor-based ATA Industrial (M) Sdn Bhd, a wholly owned subsidiary of electronics manufacturing service (EMS) provider ATA IMS Bhd where many Dyson products were made.

They claimed that they travelled from Nepal and Bangladesh to work in the said factory with all having paid a recruitment fee but were paid below minimum wage, sometimes earning less than US$10 (RM42) per day.

They also allege in their legal case that they all had their passports retained for the duration of their employment, making it impossible to find other work, hence were trapped working at the ATA factory.

Many lived in unsanitary and overcrowded living conditions of up to 80 people per room and their movements were restricted by security guards. The plight of some of the workers has been detailed in a UK Channel 4 News investigation which was aired at 7pm yesterday (Feb 10).

The minimum daily shift for the claimants was for 12 hours but they argue in their legal claim that were all forced to work overtime with shifts as long as 18 hours. If they refused to work overtime when ordered to, they say that they would be prevented from working any overtime in the future which made it impossible to live from their wages.

Many of them were also allegedly refused annual leave and worked for over 18 months without taking a break of longer than a single day. They lived under constant fear that they would be punished if they did not obey the orders of the management.

The workers also say they were told by ATA Industrial that their work visas would be taken care of but some of them were allowed to lapse, resulting in the workers being in the country illegally.

Coupled with the loss of their passports, they lived in constant fear of being arrested. Three of the claimants were arrested – spending between 14 and 24 days in jail – where they allege they were beaten by the guards, including one former worker who alleges that he was taken to the police by a member of the senior management.

Andy Hall

Labour violation

Recruitment fees, poor living conditions, passport retention, excessive hours, enforced overtime, and restrictions on movement are all clear indicators of forced labour as defined by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

The 10 men and women who have commenced legal proceedings worked in the factory operated by ATA Industrial for between three and nine years. The factory predominantly produces products for Dyson’s vacuum cleaner, lighting, haircare, heaters and fan ranges.

ATA Industrial is Dyson’s largest ‘box-build’ (the complete assembly of a customer’s finished product) partner, supplying around one third of its global ‘box-build’ production.

On Nov 25 last year, it was reported that Dyson had ended its contract with ATA Industrial due to audit findings.

However, the former workers allege in their legal case that Dyson had known about the unlawful conditions since at least November 2019 when they were notified by whistle blower Andy Hall who is also a migrant worker rights specialist.

Additionally, they argue that the exploitation and dangerous working conditions faced by migrant workers in Malaysian factories has been widely reported over the last 10 years and therefore is something that Dyson should have been aware of.

In their legal claim the workers argue that Dyson was unjustly enriched itself as a result of the unlawful, exploitative and dangerous conditions at the factory.

They argue that Dyson is liable for the breaches of their legal rights due to the company’s knowledge of the alleged unlawful practices at the ATA factory and because of their assumption of responsibility through numerous public statements regarding their policies and procedures for detecting and preventing forced labour and exploitation in their supply chains.

In the letter before action sent by law firm Leigh Day on behalf of the workers, Dyson is asked to pay compensation to the workers. If a settlement cannot be reached, the case will progress to the UK High Court.

“My team and I hope that by bringing a legal claim against Dyson, the workers can hold the company accountable for their poor governance and the woeful conditions in their supply chain,” commented Hall who first notified Dyson of the issues faced by workers in ATA’s factory and in other factories which supply them.

“Brands and buyers, alongside investors and public procurers, must conduct adequate due diligence to prevent such modern slavery conditions arising in their supply chains so that British consumers and businesses are not benefitting from the misery of others.”

One of the claimants, Dhan Kimba Limbu, said:

“The abuse I have faced has caused me a great deal of pain and distress. I thought by showing the conditions we were facing at the ATA factory, Dyson would take steps to help the workers, but instead I was punished. I hope that now Dyson will listen to the issues the workers have faced and take action to help us rebuild our lives.”

Added Oliver Holland, partner at law firm Leigh Day:

“Despite Dyson’s many public statements about ‘responsible sourcing’ in its supply chains and the extensive steps it claims to have taken to prevent exploitative working practices, our clients believe that Dyson has wholly failed in its responsibilities in relation to the treatment of workers at the ATA factory.

“Dyson had a reported turnover of US$8 bil in 2020, yet many of the workers making its products are paid well below the minimum wage. Our clients believe that corporations should not be allowed to profit from their exploitation and abuse.”

At the close of yesterday’s (Feb 10) trading, ATA IMS was down 0.5 sen or 0.97% to 51 sen with 13.34 million shares traded, thus valuing the company at RM614 mil – Feb 11, 2022


Pic credit: The Guardian

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