Bhutan Employment Overseas was the company at the centre of a scandal where participants in a work program to Japan were forced to work over the legal number of hours and live in unsanitary conditions.
The Learn and Earn program allowed Bhutanese to work in Japan for up to 28 hours a week while taking Japanese language classes, and was described as a “win-win” during its inception, offering opportunities to young people in Bhutan while also helping to tackle Japan’s labour shortage.
“Students described experiencing indicators of forced labour”
With the Himalayan kingdom suffering from high unemployment and a lack of opportunities for its youth, working abroad through government-approved agencies and schemes is a popular way to earn money. Common destinations include Japan, Kuwait and Malaysia.
According to a US report on people trafficking, around 200 of the students said that the jobs in Japan didn’t provide them with “sufficient income” and that they were “facing difficulties”.
“Media reported some of the students described experiencing indicators of forced labour, including passport retention and illegal wage deductions, although the government reported all students were in possession of their passports,” the paper noted.
Debt was incurred from visa costs and tuition fees for the language schools, as well as the costs paid to BEO for which the owners are now being charged.
As the case moves forward in Bhutan, those still working and studying in Japan have been taking steps to better protect their rights, including by setting up the International Labor Union of Bhutan with assistance from local unions to represent Bhutanese workers in the country.
“Many young Bhutanese were cheated and trapped into financial debt. As ILUB, we will work hard to protect the rights of vulnerable people and low-skilled workers,” Jaganath Koirala, ILUB’s president, said.
“We will work hard to find stable and decent jobs for our young friends so that they can start a decent and normal life.”