Is This Vacuum Cleaner Ad "Offensive" To Indonesian Maids In Malaysia?

An estimated 2 million Indonesians work in Malaysia, mainly as domestic help and menial labourers.

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Indonesia has formally protested to the Malaysian government over an ad by the Malaysian distributor of RoboVac automatic vacuum cleaners which it says is "utterly insensitive" to the hundreds of thousands of its citizens working as maids in Malaysia

An Indonesian maid works at her employer's house in Kuala Lumpur.

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"The ad by the private company Robovac is utterly insensitive and demeaning to the people of Indonesia," the Indonesian embassy in Malaysia said in a statement. The embassy said it sent a formal protest note to Malaysia on Tuesday.

"We urge Malaysian authorities to ban the ad," it said, adding that it was considering further legal action against the company.

The advertisement, promoting an automatic vacuum cleaner, had the wording "Fire your Indonesian maid now!," The Star reported

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Aside from sending a note in protest of the advertisement, the embassy has also assigned its lawyers to meet with the company's representatives and to consider taking legal measures. The embassy has also reported the case to the Selangor police.

Indonesia Vice President Jusuf Kalla, criticising the advertisement, said that the company must apologise for releasing the advert

Vice President Jusuf Kalla

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Kalla viewed the ad as unethical, despite the company’s intention of attracting customers.

“[The ad] must be retracted [and the company] must apologize. This is not under our control, but it is ethically wrong,” he said in his office on Wednesday.

The Vice President said that through the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, the government has sought an explanation from the company.

Kalla also said his govt would improve the quality of migrant workers and, if necessary, would suspend sending them here

An Indonesian maid cleans her employer’s house in Kuala Lumpur.

Image via Zainal Abd Halim/Reuters

“Indonesia once introduced a moratorium on labour supply to Malaysia; so if it is needed we will suspend sending workers there for three, four or five years,” he said.

The row comes as President Joko Widodo is due to begin a visit to Malaysia on Thursday. The treatment of hundreds of thousands of Indonesian domestic workers in Malaysia has been a repeated source of tension between the two countries, reported the BBC.

Indonesians are employed as domestic helpers in countries across South East Asia

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There have been several reports of abuse of Indonesian domestic staff in Malaysia, prompting Indonesia to ban its citizens from taking such jobs altogether in June 2009.

The ban was revoked after the countries reached a deal to improve working conditions, including one guaranteed day off each week and stopping employers from holding employees passports.

The issue is expected to come up in talks between President Widodo - known as Jokowi - and Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak on Friday. It is Mr Widodo's first official visit to Malaysia since taking office last year.

Back in 2012, a flyer advertising cut-rate maid services emerged in Malaysia declaring "Indonesian maids now on sale!"

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The issue went viral among angry Internet users in Indonesia and triggered a phone call by Indonesia’s foreign minister to his Malaysian counterpart to complain.

Last year a "racist" Malaysian insurance commercial depicting a male Chinese actor as a Filipina maid drew similar outrage in HK

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Aimed at the employers of the southern Chinese city’s 300,000 maids, who mainly hail from Indonesia and the Philippines, the ad from Malaysia’s Hong Leong Bank shows the Chinese actor wearing dark orange make-up and a curly wig as he plays clumsy maid “Maria”.

It was withdrawn after the outcry.

400,000 foreign domestic workers are now employed here

One of Southeast Asia’s more affluent countries, Malaysia has long attracted aspiring maids from its poorer neighbours, the vast majority being Indonesian women.

What do you think? Is this vacuum cleaner ad offensive and demeaning to Indonesian maids? Comment to let us know.

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