Indonesian jewelry and watch makers have been accused of ripping off consumers for years and are being sued for tens of millions of dollars in legal fees, according to an Associated Press investigation.
The AP identified more than 50 Indonesian watchmakers as being in the crosshairs of the investigation, which began in January, and found dozens of factories that make products that have been sold at wholesale to the public.
Watchmakers and their employees were paid less than the minimum wage and some of them were forced to work overtime to survive, said Nafeesa Ahmed, a lawyer with the nonprofit watchdog group International Watchmakers’ Rights Association.
“They are paying people to do things that they’re not paid to do,” Ahmed said.
The trade has led to a surge in suicides, including cases of workers hanging themselves.
Some of the factories are operated by one or more former Indonesian military commanders, according the AP investigation.
“The way in which the factories have been managed, the way the bosses have been operating, has made them the most dangerous place for workers,” said Ahmed.
Some factories produce jewelry for people who are unable to afford expensive watches, including women and children.
The jewelry trade was once lucrative for Indonesia, a rich country that exports more than $400 billion worth of goods annually.
But as economic development has improved and its middle class has grown, the market has been hit hard.
The industry’s downfall has forced more than 10,000 people to leave Indonesia in the past year alone, according a report from the Indonesian Institute of Labor and Employment.
In October, the government announced a nationwide amnesty for workers who had been illegally imprisoned.
But the amnesty is only available for the most serious crimes, including those related to the industry.
The amnesty is set to expire in November.
Indonesia’s watchmakers say they are doing everything possible to clean up their image and get their factories back in business.
“Our aim is to do everything possible and ensure that the watchmakers who have been in jail are released soon,” said Nifri Ali, the general manager of Gorjana Watchworks, a jewelry manufacturer in the southern city of Surabaya.
“We have been cooperating with the authorities.
We’re in touch with the legal system and the court system and we will cooperate with the police and with the prosecutor.”
But watchmakers worry that the amnesty may not be enough.
They say that the government’s amnesty is “a slap in the face” to the workers who are being held for months in jail and that there are many other cases of labor exploitation.
“In the future, the amnesty will be meaningless,” said Hamad Kudu, a worker with Gorjantwa Watchworks.
“There is no amnesty and there will be no amnesty.”
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