Bitter Harvest: Amnesty International reports abuse and exploitation of migrant workers in South Korea

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Yesterday, Amnesty International released Bitter Harvest, its report documenting extensive abuse and exploitation of migrant workers in the South Korean agricultural industry. VOA reports:
The report said the country's Employment Permit System, or EPS, is designed "to provide migrant labor to small- and medium-sized enterprises that struggle to hire a sufficient number of national workers."
The report, based on interviews with migrant agricultural workers across South Korea, documents a range of exploitation, including intimidation and violence, squalid accommodations, excessive working hours, no weekly rest days and unpaid overtime.

Amnesty said while an EPS employer can terminate a migrant's contract without having to justify the decision, migrants who want to leave their jobs must obtain an employer-signed release form.

Without the release, migrants run the risk of being reported as "runaways" to the immigration authorities by their employers, subjecting the migrants to arrest and deportation.

Amnesty International found that employers responsible for exploiting migrant agricultural workers rarely face any sanctions.
Sadly, this does not surprise me after living and working there for nearly two years. South Korea is a wonderful place in many respects, but racism and xenophobia are very common and can often lead to apathy about these types of abuses. Opposition to "multicultural marriages" (very common for Korean farmers, who often marry Southeast Asian women because they cannot find a Korean bride), is widespread. Although white Westerners enjoy a relative amount of respect and prestige, I knew several English teachers who were deprived of benefits and forced to work overtime (often in violation of their contracts) for private academies, or risk losing their job and visa. Stories of teachers fired so that their employers could avoid paying severance were everywhere, and the legal system is notoriously difficult to navigate for foreigners. For migrant laborers, it is clearly much worse.

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