20 November 2018

Swaziland: Students in Taiwan Forced to Work 'Like Slaves' in Frozen Chicken Factory

Students from Swaziland / Eswatini studying in Taiwan are being made to work in a frozen chicken factory for 40 hours a week to pay for tuition and accommodation. If they try to leave their university will punish them and their condition has been likened to slavery.

More than 40 Swazi students are said to be involved, according to the Swazi Observer newspaper. It said they only attend studies for two days a week.

The Observer reported on Monday (19 November 2018) the students went to Taiwan in September 2018 to study for a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) at the private MingDao University in Pitou.

The Observer reported, 'According to several sources who are based in Taiwan, and familiar with the situation, these students are forced to work in the chicken factory where they are made to peel chickens under freezing temperatures to pay for their tuition fees and accommodation at the university.

'They work for 40 hours in a week, which is ten hours per day. The conditions are so unfavourable that two of the students are reportedly back in the country after failing to keep up with the situation.' It added the students only have one full day and a half day of studies and they work for five days.

It quoted a source saying, 'The institution is making a profit out of the students because they get only two per cent of their earnings and the rest is forfeited for tuition fees and accommodation but the forfeited sum is way more than the fees of the two. This is a case of slavery and the students all want to come back home due to the unfavourable conditions they are exposed to in Taiwan.'

It reported one student likened the situation to 'slavery' because 'the students cannot just leave, as the university will punish those remaining behind'.

The source said, 'If you run away, the ones left behind will be made to suffer.'

Swaziland makes a lot of its relationship with Taiwan. The kingdom ruled by King Mswati III as an absolute monarch is the only nation in Africa that officially recognises Taiwan. In 2018 Taiwan gave the King US$1.3 million towards the cost of his 50th birthday celebration. In April 2018 the King called on the United Nations to admit Taiwan to the organisation. Taiwan, which calls itself the Republic of China on Taiwan, is not recognised by the UN because the People's Republic of China claims the territory as its own.

Taiwan has a history of exploitation in Swaziland. Taiwanese textile firms operate in Swaziland and have a poor record on workers' rights.

In July 2014 a survey of the Swazi textile industry undertaken by the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) revealed workers were subjected to harsh and sometimes abusive conditions, many of the kingdom's labour laws were routinely violated by employers, and union activists were targeted by employers for punishment. More than 90 percent of workers surveyed reported being punished by management for making errors, not meeting quotas or missing shifts. More than 70 percent of survey respondents reported witnessing verbal and physical abuse in their workplace by supervisors.

Commenting on the survey, the American labour federation AFL-CIO said, 'Some workers reported that supervisors slap or hit workers with impunity. In one example, a worker knocked to the ground by a line manager was suspended during an investigation of the incident while the line manager continued in her job.

'Women reported instances of sexual harassment, as well. Several workers said they or other contract (temporary) workers were offered a permanent job in exchange for sex.'

Mistreatment of workers in the textile industry in Swaziland has been known for many years and workers have staged strikes and other protests to draw attention to the situation.

Taiwan also donates aid to Swaziland. It regularly supplies tens of thousands of pairs of sneakers to women who participate in the annual Reed Dance where 'maidens' dance topless in front of the King. It is also spending E260 million (US$21 million) over five years to rebuild the out-patient department of Mbabane Government Hospital.

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