• Over 122m women are working outside their home country globally, with many in Southeast Asia.
  • A report by the Fair Labor Association has found female migrant workers in Thailand, Taiwan and Malaysia, in particular, subject to pregnancy discrimination.
  • The report calls on brands and governments to take action. 
Malaysia, Taiwan, and Thailand are said to discriminate against pregnant garment workers

Malaysia, Taiwan, and Thailand are said to discriminate against pregnant garment workers

Female migrant garment and footwear workers are routinely facing pregnancy discrimination in Malaysia, Taiwan and Thailand, a new report has found, with some facing deportation.

According to The United States Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, pregnancy discrimination is defined as "treating a woman (an applicant or employee) unfavourably because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth".

A report published this week by the Fair Labor Association: 'Triple Discrimination: Woman, Pregnant and Migrant' found Malaysia, Taiwan, and Thailand to have poor implementation of pregnancy laws and regulations, or pregnancy laws designed to target female migrant workers.

Among the three countries studied, Malaysia was found to have the most restrictive legal environment for female migrant workers. Pregnancy testing is required prior to departure from their home country, and on a yearly basis thereafter. If a migrant worker is found to be pregnant, she will be deported immediately and at her own expense, the report claims.

Taiwan is understood to ban pregnancy testing at the point of recruitment and during employment and prohibits employers from terminating and deporting a migrant worker who becomes pregnant. Yet the country provides no legal status for the children of migrant workers once they are born.

Unlike the other countries, migrant workers in Thailand are eligible for pre- and post-natal care. Yet female workers are subject to a pregnancy test as part of a general medical exam when they apply for a work permit.

"Pregnancy discrimination, including mandatory testing or deportation of workers found to be pregnant, may be legally sanctioned in certain countries, but that doesn't make it right," says Sharon Waxman, president and CEO of the FLA. "FLA-affiliated brands are required to comply with all the local laws and regulations of a country, and also to apply the highest standards of worker protection. Our affiliates have made a commitment to not discriminate against women who want to become pregnant or who are pregnant. It's time for the laws of these important manufacturing countries to catch up."

According to the report, there are over 122m women working outside their home country globally, with many in Southeast Asia, including in Taiwan, Thailand, and Malaysia. These countries rely on temporary migrant workers to fill factory jobs, where the workers are disproportionately young and female. Compared to local workers, migrant workers almost always lack the same legal and social protections and are often at greater risk for discrimination and harm, the report explains.

It makes a number of recommendations for improvement for the governments of Malaysia, Thailand, and Taiwan, and for the brands sourcing from those countries.

It calls on brands to advocate for strong non-discrimination protections for women and migrant workers in countries where they source, and also in the origin countries of their workers in the medium- to long-term.

It also urges brands to take additional steps, such as raising workers' awareness of their rights, supporting civil society initiatives to protect pregnant migrant workers, and providing redress mechanisms for those experiencing discrimination.

Ultimately, however, it calls on governments to cease all mandatory pregnancy testing for migrant workers. The report acknowledges that amending national rules and regulations takes time, but in the meantime, suggests companies that are serious about addressing pregnancy discrimination advocate for change and pursue solutions.

Click here to view the full report.