Japanese electronics company Hitachi is failing to uphold human rights throughout its supply chain – while migrant workers are mistreated and Malaysian human rights defenders exposing this behaviour are facing aggressive legal action, Hitachi keeps refusing to use the means at its disposal to make its supplier Asahi Kosei drop the legal case and respect workers’ rights.

At the Asahi Kosei operated plant in Malaysia migrant workers  from a number of Asian countries are set to work, including workers from Burma. These workers are generally treated abominably, having to put up with disproportional wage deductions, lack of sick leave, withholding of their passports, retaliatory confiscation of their belongings if they protest, etc. In January 2011, a group of 31 Burmese workers protested about their labour and employment conditions. Despite having valid work permits and contracts subsequently two of them were taken under false pretence to the airport to be deported  – but managed to escape at the very last moment. At the time of writing, Thiha Soe and Aung San are in hiding.

Malaysian human rights defender Charles Hector and fellow labour rights activists concerned themselves about the treatment of the Burmese workers deployed at Asahi Kosei’s Selangor plant. In February 2011, Charles Hector wrote a letter to Asahi Kosei. When the company failed to respond, Hector posted information received from the affected workers on his weblog.

In retaliation, Asahi Kosei has taken aggressive legal action against Charles Hector, accusing him of libel, and demanding an outrageous sum for compensation ($ 3.3 million). Several hearings have taken place – the dates for the full trial are expected to be fixed shortly.

GoodElectronics, makeITfair as well as other labour rights groups have written to brands known to be sourcing or to have sourced from Asahi Kosei Malaysia. So far, Philips, Seagate and Toshiba responded, with –unsubstantiated- claims that they are no longer sourcing from Asahi Kosei Malaysia. Their companies’ names are, however, still listed on Asahi Kosei’s website. Other buyers did not respond.

Until this date Asahi Kosei and Hitachi refuse any dialogue with the labour groups and migrant advocacy groups concerned. There has been no improvement of the treatment of the Burmese workers after Asahi Kosei Malaysia filed the lawsuit against Charles Hector.