Businesses call on Government to grant refugees the right to work in Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur, 9 December 2019 – As the Government prepares to make its final decision on whether to grant refugees in Malaysia the right to work, a number of businesses, the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), the Tent Partnership for Refugees, with the backing of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR),  have reiterated their support for this policy reform.

The Pakatan Harapan government pledged in its electoral manifesto to provide refugees with “labour rights on par with locals” and is now considering how to move forward with this pledge. Human Resource Minister, YB M. Kulasegaran recently announced that the Cabinet will be making its final decision on the matter between 10-15 December 2019.

In a letter to the Government, 20 businesses,  multinational companies with a presence in Malaysia as well as local businesses, have expressed their support for the government to follow through on their electoral pledge to provide refugees with legal work rights. They include Unilever, Hilton, AirBnB, Uniqlo, Karex, Kaodim, Reckitt Benckiser, IOI and Chobani.

Annemarieke de Haan, Managing Director at Unilever Malaysia, said: “We believe a diverse and inclusive business makes us, and society, stronger. That is why we use our voice to raise awareness, engage stakeholders and champion policies that support refugee rights. We believe it is important to grant refugees legal working rights and we are advocating this change in partnership with UNHCR and the Tent Partnership for Refugees. We hope our joint efforts will help provide refugees decent work, reduce inequalities and create an opportunity for economic growth.”

“As a business of people serving people, we are committed to training and developing local talent to do our part for the communities we operate in. Hilton’s presence in Malaysia is poised to expand by more than 80 percent in the next few years. Being able to recruit from a greater pool of domestic labour would enable us to do our part in contributing to the local economy,” said Paul Hutton, vice president, operations, South East Asia, Hilton.

According to new research released by IDEAS and funded by Tent last April, it is estimated that refugees could contribute over RM3 billion to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2024 through higher spending. The wider economic impact of this policy reform, including indirect effects, could be substantially more. In addition to boosting GDP, allowing refugees to work would lead to an increase in tax revenues, with a total contribution estimated at RM50 million each year by 2024. The research also concludes that employment and wages of Malaysians would benefit, with refugees helping to create over 4,000 jobs for Malaysians if given the right to work.

Commenting on this, IDEAS CEO, Ali Salman, said, “We have shown that refugees can make an important contribution to Malaysia’s economy – a contribution currently untapped. However, beyond the economic benefits, legal work rights could help eliminate forced labour and debt bondage, which disproportionately affect the refugee community. This can improve Malaysia’s Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) record, which remains a Tier 2 country on the US state department’s watch list in 2019.”

Gideon Maltz, Executive Director at the Tent Partnership for Refugees, said: “Granting refugees the right to work is not only the right thing to do – it’s also the smart thing to do. Why should companies bear the costs of bringing in foreign workers when more than 100,000 refugees already in Malaysia can be gainfully employed?”

Additionally, UNHCR has also expressed its support, commenting, “UNHCR welcomes the consideration of the Government of Malaysia to afford refugees access to legal work. Such a decision will benefit the Malaysian economy and afford the refugees with better protection. It is hoped that the decision will be made in accordance with the Government’s Manifesto Promise 35, providing access to legal work at par with locals. This would mean that refugees would not be subsumed under the labour migrant scheme, recognising that their situation is different and that the procedure of the labour migrant scheme would therefore not be effective.”


For press enquiries:

IDEAS Malaysia: Ali Salman, CEO, [email protected], 03-2070 8881

Hilton, Southeast Asia (Email only) : Cheryl Chan, Communications, South East Asia, Hilton [email protected]


IDEAS is a policy research organisation with the mission of improving the level of understanding and acceptance of public policies based on the principles of the rule of law, limited government, free markets and individual liberty and responsibility. For more information, please visit

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The Tent Partnership for Refugees, founded by Chobani’s Hamdi Ulukaya, mobilizes the business community to improve the lives and livelihoods of nearly 26 million refugees forcibly displaced from their home countries. Tent believes that the business community is uniquely positioned to address the global refugee crisis by mobilizing the networks, resources, innovation, and the entrepreneurial spirit of the business community – and that companies have the greatest impact they leverage their core business operations to hire refugees, integrate them into supply chains, invest in refugees, and deliver services to them. Tent has over 100 large members. Learn more about Tent:

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