Transnational labour: Vietnamese workers in Malaysia
Garment industries in developing countries are tied to the global economy and make up the production links in the periphery of the commodity chains. In chain analysis there is a division of power and wealth between the core and the periphery; while the core holds the power through design, marketing and retailing the periphery is dependent on the core for contracts. The garment industry in Malaysia is situated in the periphery and is almost totally reliant on contracts from the United States (US) and Europe for its survival. Since the global economic recession the contraction in the consumption of garments in these countries has translated into factory closures and lay offs in Malaysia. There are a number of foreign workers working in the clothing industry in Malaysia under the government’s guest worker policy. This paper provides an overview of the labour conditions and the lived realities of Vietnamese male and female labour migrants recruited to work in the clothing industries in Malaysia. In the labour migration literature most of the studies focuses on the transnational movements of workers between countries, especially in the context of Indonesian workers and domestic servants. In the sociology literature, the studies focus on the decline of national trade unions and the rise of NGOs in the national context there are few studies that examine the building of international relationships between workers, social movements, NGOs and unions that transcend the nation. Although many see the limitations of building labour solidarity and improving working conditions for transnational migrants in the destination country this paper argues that the lack of real labour representation and support leaves workers in a vulnerable situation. In response both international and local NGOs are building networks that offer workers a sense of community and support in the face of adversity.