How This Entrepreneur’s Company Is Fighting Against Migrant Labour Exploitation
Zenna Law, the co-founder and CEO of Pinkcollar, shares how her company is making the business of hiring a migrant domestic worker more ethical and transparent
In this edition of our rapid-fire questions series with a Gen.T 2022 honouree, we sit down with Zenna Law, the co-founder and CEO of Pinkcollar, which aims to bring fairness and transparency to the business of hiring a migrant domestic worker.
She shares about the gaps that her company is hoping to fill, and the issues that migrant workers face and how they can be tackled, as well as what drives her to do what she does.
What gaps is Pinkcollar hoping to fill in the migrant domestic worker industry?
Zenna Law (ZL): There are an estimated 2 million documented migrant workers in Malaysia, of which 250,000 are migrant domestic workers. Despite the growing demand for migrant labour, the process of recruiting these workers remains broken and fragmented. This leads to poor results for employers and workers, where 40 percent of migrant domestic worker placements fail within the first three months.
This has caused a systemic bias and distrust between workers and employers, worsening the use of forced labour practices to keep migrant workers in jobs. As a result, an estimated 200,000 migrant workers currently face conditions of exploitation and forced labour; 35 percent of migrant domestic workers have their passports withheld, 43 percent are restricted from leaving the homes they work in and migrant workers often forgo three to eight months of their salaries to repay illegal recruitment fees.
We knew there was a better way to deliver on the needs of both employers and workers. Employers must be committed to providing suitable training for migrant workers to fulfill their job requirements. At the same time, migrant workers need access to safe, dignified work that won't drive them into recruitment debt.
Pinkcollar eliminates forced labour practices from Malaysia’s migrant supply chains through an ethical hiring model.
We don't charge migrant workers placement fees or illegal salary deductions so they can focus on their jobs without a debt burden. We also provide accurate job information, legal rights and migration preparedness training, and access to grievance mechanisms post-placement.
In a broader scope and beyond Pinkcollar, what can be done to tackle the issues of migrant domestic workers working and living in exploitative conditions?
ZL: As a preventive measure, corporate and individual employers can play a key role in tackling migrant worker exploitation by ensuring that they are engaging responsible recruiters to meet their labour needs.
We also recommend that immigration procedures and policies move toward allowing migrant workers in Malaysia that meet predefined categories e.g. completing employment contracts successfully or if they find themselves in unsafe workplace conditions, to seek new jobs legally without facing repatriation so that workers can benefit from higher job mobility without compromising on their legal employment status, to meet their needs for an income source to support their dependents back home.
Community awareness and shared accountability can also be powerful ways to encourage more compliance with the labour rights of migrant workers in Malaysia. If you know of a friend, family member, or someone in your community who hires migrant workers, gaining awareness of and acting on their contractual rights will significantly impact the migrant workers in your immediate networks.
See also: The Gen.T List 2022 In Numbers: Asia
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from building Pinkcollar?
ZL: That one of the best catalysts for achieving professional success is to remain focused. I've learned that developing a focus to build on one particular interest or passion has allowed me to achieve product-market fit and grow traction for a cause I care deeply about. Also, reminding myself to stay anchored to my values across challenging and successful seasons in my life so that I can achieve authenticity in my work and life by going back often to rely on the pillars of my convictions and what drives me.
I strongly believe in the power of a self-reflective and collaborative mindset and an openness to feedback toward effective leadership and team management. I also strive—as much as possible in this work—to set and model good boundaries between my professional and personal life, in my belief that building a life that nourishes and fulfills us outside of our professional identities is an important way to support our overall wellbeing and ensure the continuity and sustainability of the work we do in the long term.
What are three things that drive you?
ZL: I’ve always felt very deeply about my conviction that ‘social responsibility accrues through privilege’. I recognise my social privilege in having received a quality education and other enablers that set things in place for me to pursue seeking my passions and purpose so early on in life. I'm driven by a responsibility to pave similar access and equalise the playing field for the communities we serve.
I'm also driven by my personal desire for fulfillment and to experience a full, meaningful life. I do this by staying open and hopeful to opportunities and challenges as they unfold, and taking them on in my belief that my path always connects in retrospect.
Finally, I'm driven and inspired by the incredible resilience and resourcefulness of the migrant worker beneficiaries we serve.
What’s next for you?
ZL: We’re just getting started in catalysing a world of safe jobs for migrant workers in Malaysia and Southeast Asia. We’ll be working hard to make Pinkcollar’s ethical hiring solution the mainstream recruitment model for all migrant labour-reliant sectors in manufacturing, plantation, construction, security and so on.
I also want to look into improving other pain points faced by migrant workers such as the lack of access to micro-loans or financial services and how to support continued employment efforts for returnee migrants when they eventually return to their home countries.
Personally, I look forward to enjoying life post-pandemic, spending time, reconnecting and travelling more with my loved ones!