10 Feb 2022

Exclusive: Dyson faces legal action over ‘forced labour’ and exploitation

Home Affairs Correspondent

More than a dozen workers making products and components for Dyson are taking legal action against the company, alleging a string of labour abuses at a supplier in Malaysia, a Channel 4 News investigation can reveal. 

The workers were employed at ATA Industrial, a division of ATA IMS, a major electronics manufacturer in Johor Bahru, which makes cordless vacuum cleaners and purifier fans for Dyson.

They intend to file a claim against Dyson in court, accusing the company of negligence. Dyson rejects the claim.

On top of this, one of the workers told Channel 4 News he was tortured by local police after concerns about unlawful working conditions in the factory were first raised in 2019.

Oliver Holland, a partner at UK law firm Leigh Day, which is representing the workers, told Channel 4 News: “Our clients allege that they work under conditions of forced labour.

“They lived in unsanitary and crowded accommodation, and they lived under the constant threat of punishment and persecution by the factory management if they didn’t adhere to what they wanted them to do.”

Dyson categorically denies any wrongdoing and a representative will be appearing on Channel 4 News tonight to address the allegations.

ATA categorically denies any wrongdoing.

The Royal Malaysian Police did not provide a response.

‘So scared’

Between 2019 and 2021, Andy Hall, a labour rights activist in south east Asia, received repeated complaints from whistleblowers about forced working conditions at ATA and contacted Dyson to raise the alarm.

In early 2021, Dyson was provided with further evidence of alleged squalid and overcrowded worker accommodation and reports of exploitation at the factory.

The allegations were so serious, an investigation was launched by US Customs and Border Protection.

Dyson told Channel 4 News it did investigate Mr Hall’s claims promptly.

Between November 2019 and June last year it conducted 5 audits of ATA, but no significant issues were found, and problems were quickly remedied.

In June last year, when a report about conditions at ATA appeared in a UK national newspaper, Dyson categorically denied the claims calling the report “false and defamatory” and subject to a legal complaint.

Following the report, ATA sought to identify the whistleblowers, some of whom had their mobile phones seized.

Dhan Kumar Limbu, 32, travelled from Nepal to Malaysia and has worked for ATA IMS since 2012.

He told Channel 4 News ATA managers took him to Larkin Police Station in Johor Bahru in June 2021, where he alleges he was interrogated and tortured by officers from the Royal Malaysian Police.

He told Channel 4 News: “When I screamed in pain, he stood on my knees, then hit me on the soles of my feet with a [rubber] pipe.

“He would stop and then start beating again. I felt so scared.”

Mr Limbu claims ATA IMS’s then Chief Operating Officer, Balachandran Govindasamy, threatened him with imprisonment for a terrorism offence if he didn’t sign a false confession claiming he’d been paid to make claims against the company.

Mr Limbu eventually fled the factory last July and returned home to Nepal.

Mr Govindasamy and ATA categorically denies the claims made by Mr Limbu. When Dyson heard his story, it immediately launched its own investigation. The company’s lawyers interviewed Mr Limbu and Dyson refunded the cost of the former ATA worker’s return to Nepal.

Contracted terminatedIn November last year, following the completion of Dyson’s independent audit carried out by Elevate, the company terminated its contract with ATA Industrial.

The report had identified major forced labour issues at ATA – including excessive working hours, the non repayment of recruitment fees and the employment of workers without valid visas.

Channel 4 News understands that Dyson’s investigation into Mr Limbu’s claims was one factor prompting their decision to terminate its relationship with ATA.

Mr Limbu is now one of 14 ATA workers who intend to file a claim against Dyson in the UK over allegations that the company failed in its duty of care to ensure the welfare of workers in its supply chain.

Dyson denies that they failed to act when concerns were raised. They say the legal case against them is groundless.

ATA confirmed they took Mr Limbu to the police station, but deny he was beaten. They say they engaged a law firm to investigate Mr Limbu’s allegations which found them “unjustified and unsubstantiated and unlikely to have taken place”.

ATA say claims against its management are “preposterous”. They claim Mr Limbu appeared uninjured after the incident in CCTV footage but refused to provide it to Channel 4 News.  The Royal Malaysia Police declined to comment.

Dyson’s billionaire chairman and founder, Sir James Dyson, took the controversial decision to move its manufacturing base from the UK to Malaysia in 2002.

The ATA IMS group produces millions of parts and products each year for Dyson – including components for the Dyson Cool and Hot+Cool devices, Dyson Pure Cool devices; Dyson cordless vacuum cleaners including the V7, V8, V10 and V11 models, Dyson lighting products and Dyson electronic haircare products. 

Investigations team: Lee Sorrell, Ed Howker, Guy Basnett
Director: Karim Shah
Producer: Talah Kaddourah
Executive producer: Job Rabkin
Editor: Tim Bentham
Graphic designer: Toby Beaugeard

This Channel 4 News broadcast is the subject of a legal complaint from Dyson Technology Limited, Dyson Limited and Sir James Dyson.