Indonesia angrily protested to neighboring Malaysia Wednesday over a vacuum cleaner ad telling people to dismiss their Indonesian maids. The row comes just as Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo pays a visit to Malaysia.
The advertisement by a Malaysian distributor of Robovac automatic vacuum cleaners sparked anger in Indonesia after a picture was posted on the Internet and went viral on social media. “Fire your Indonesian maid now!” the ad read, with the word “Indonesian” underlined for emphasis.
“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 strongly-worded statement dated February 4 and addressed to the Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
“We urge Malaysian authorities to ban the ad,” the statement, originally in Bahasa Indonesia, added. It also requested that Malaysia ensure that such incidents are not repeated in the future. In addition, the embassy has also reportedly sent a formal protest note to Malaysia and has said that it is considering further legal action against the firm.
Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla was harsher, deeming it a “form of harassment” towards Indonesians and even threatening to introduce a moratorium on workers to Malaysia for a few years. Over 2 million Indonesians are estimated to be currently working in Malaysia, with many of them being domestic workers or laborers.
The ad has since been taken down and is no longer accessible on the original website. In a statement on Wednesday, Corvan Technology said it was the only distributor of the Neato Botvac Robotic Vacuum but had neither authorized the advertisement nor the dealer, The Star reported. The statement warned customers to be wary of such unauthorized dealers.
The two neighboring countries have repeatedly traded barbs over the issue of Indonesian domestic helpers in Malaysia. In 2009, recurring reports of abuse caused Jakarta to institute a moratorium much like the one that Kalla had threatened to reintroduce. The freeze was lifted two years later after the two countries agreed a deal to improve working conditions.
The controversy comes just as Jokowi is about to meet Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak during a visit scheduled to last from February 5 to February 7. After that, the Indonesian leader will move on to Brunei and then the Philippines. Indonesia’s ambassador to Malaysia, Herman Prayitno, noted rather pointedly in the embassy statement that the incident, which he deemed “very disturbing” to the people and nation of Indonesia, came in the midst of preparations for Jokowi’s visit, which sought to strengthen and deepen bilateral ties.
The two leaders are expected to discuss the matter, along with other security, trade and economic issues including potential joint work on an “ASEAN car.”