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‘Slave labour rampant at Murum Dam’

Penan communities have been complaining for years
that their families are being abused by in-commers
and that many of their children are the product
of rape – this girl spoke out to Sarawak Report

PETALING JAYA: Independent online portal, Sarawak Report, alleged that migrant workers at the Murum Dam were being treated like slaves, with the state agency in charge hardly paying their wages.

In addition, the portal also claimed that Penan women are still being exploited sexually by travelling salesmen linked to the dam work camps, with no action taken against the perpetrators.

According to the report, several workers from the dam project, who managed to escape from the site revealed the shocking details to its reporters.

The workers are mainly Chinese, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Burmese.
Hired by agents, thousands of the migrants workers at Murum were barely paid for their work and at times, nothing at all.

“Payments are made by issuing company cheques in a very remote area, leaving the workers with no choice but to cash their cheques through the company’s own cashier.

“For this they are charged a 10% ‘administration fee’,” said the report.

On Penans, Sarawak Report claimed that ‘travelling salesmen”, known as Sabat and linked to the work camps near the dam site, were sexually exploiting the indigenous tribes’ women.

International guidelines ignored

It is said the salesmen, offering items such as carpets, mattresses and television, sell their products to the Penans at high prices on an installment plan.

“They push up the price three times or higher and often the families cannot pay because they have almost no income as rampant logging has deprived them of their forest products.

“They take advantage of this situation by forcing themselves on the women who are ‘indebted’. Often they will come during the daytime when the men are out hunting for food,” claimed the report.

The portal criticised the Sarawak state government and the Sarawak Energy Board (SEB) for keeping mum and urged foreign companies mulling a business deal with the state to think twice.

“SEB’s chief executive Torstein Sjotveit had admitted in 2009 that dam projects in Sarawak were not carried out according to international standards and guidelines.

“This includes Murum, which was begun in total secrecy for the first two years of construction, presumably owing to the sensitivity of destroying the homeland of the Penans,” said the report.

Sarawak Report added: “Not only were workers and Penans exploited, unscrupulous logging companies had also felled thousands of hectares of rainforest, without providing the slightest form of compensation to the dependent tribes.

SEB is helmed by Hamid Sepawi, who is related to Sarawak chief minister Abdul Taib Mahmud.

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