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A work shift? The labour approach to trafficking for forced labour in the Greater Mekong Subregion

This week’s contribution to the blog is written by Marja Paavilainen and Anna Olsen. For thousands of migrant workers in the Greater Mekong Subregion trafficking for forced labour is an everyday risk. This article explores ways that a ‘labour approach’ can prevent such exploitation and protect the rights of victims, particularly measures included in the ILO’s new legally binding Protocol on forced labour.

Marja Paavilainen is Chief Technical Adviser of the Forced Labour Action in the Asian Region (FLARE project) in the ILO Decent Work Technical Support Team for East and South-East Asia and the Pacific, based in Bangkok. Anna Olsen is Technical Officer, Tripartite Action to Protect the Rights of Migrant Workers in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS TRIANGLE project) in the ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, also based in Bangkok. To find out more on ILO work on forced labour, trafficking in persons and labour migration in the Asia Pacific region, please visit: AP-Forced Labour Net and AP-Migration. 

The link between voluntary migration, trafficking in persons and forced labour is expressly recognized in the new Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29). In the Greater Mekong Subregion, there is already broad recognition that trafficking for forced labour occurs primarily where migrant workers from Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Viet Nam are deceived or coerced into exploitative situations during the process of voluntarily moving from their homes in search of decent work. The moment when voluntary migration transforms into a trafficking or forced labour experience is hard to pinpoint; it can happen in the country of origin, when debt bondage conditions are placed on the migrant, or in training centres when freedom of movement is restricted. Or, it can happen after arrival in the country of destination, as in the example below. (more…)

Some implications of using the term ‘modern slavery’

This week we welcome a guest post by Mike Dottridge. The author was the director of Anti-Slavery International between 1996 and 2002. For the past decade he has worked independently as a consultant on human rights and child rights issues. In 2002 Mike was one of the experts invited by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to help prepare a set of Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking(issued by the High Commissioner in May 2002). He is the author of numerous publications on issues linked to exploitation and trafficking, including a UNICEF reference guide on child trafficking. 

It was in August 2013, when UK Home Secretary Theresa May announced that she intended to present a Bill on ‘modern slavery’, that Britain once again began invoking the memory of William Wilberforce and the 200-year old campaign against slavery in its efforts to combat human trafficking. Caroline Parkes has already pointed out weaknesses in the provisions of the draft Bill published last December.

So what are the reasons for and against using the term ‘modern slavery’ to describe the patterns of exploitation occurring in the UK today that many British MPs and other people think should be illegal? (more…)

Statement regarding the 8 December 2013 Little India riots

The Trafficking Research Project (TTRP) expresses concern about the government’s response to the riot that occurred in Little India, Singapore, on 8 December 2013. Notably, such social unrest is the first of its kind in four decades. As such, TTRP advocates that the time is ripe for a national reconsideration of both the immediate cause of the violence as well as the deep-seated inequality that shapes the treatment of migrant workers in Singapore.

The government’s response to the riot includes a targeted police presence in places migrants congregate (including dormitories) and a temporary ban on alcohol in Little India. A focus on criminal justice coupled with limited community outreach has likely frustrated both law enforcement attempts at information gathering as well as affected migrant workers, who have been encouraged to stay inside dormitories on their day off. Despite a call against xenophobic comments, official statements, such as those made by Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, perpetuate an “us” versus “them” rhetoric. Moreover, statements claiming a lack of evidence linking the riot to labor conditions may not take into account any systemic distrust in government authorities by migrant workers. (more…)

Running interference: tackling trafficking

Without The Guardian, I might have remained blissfully ignorant of any preparation for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Sidestepping, for a moment, the imminence of the 2014 (Brazil) and 2018 (Russia) World Cup tournaments, I am stereotypically American. I do not follow soccer, or football, hence the mixed metaphoric title of this post; the only context in which I will sanction the word “tackling” in anti-trafficking discourse. I am, however, no stranger to the keen perseverance of media and activist reporting on the links between A Major Sporting Event and human trafficking. (more…)

Middlemen

A key component of human trafficking, recruitment often involves labor and migration brokers, with varying levels of complicity, in the process of exploitation. Recruitment practices for low-wage migrant workers may increase the risk for exploitation as a result of the costs incurred to the worker. Recruiters and agents themselves may be abusive. Moreover, the recruitment experiences of workers pre-migration can be linked to vulnerability to exploitation not only during employment, but also in the process of repatriation. In Singapore, the repatriation process itself can be forced and abusive, exacerbating individual risk by enabling employers to deport workers without pay or compensation for injury. (more…)

Making the cut: blacklisting in the UK

Blacklisting is rearing its ugly head again in the UK.  The Scottish Affairs Committee published its interim report in April on the, supposedly historical, practice of blacklisting in the construction industry.  Blacklisting in this context involved placing construction workers on a list because they were part of a union, undertook union activities or raised health and safety concerns.  This list was then circulated to potential employers, so they knew which workers to avoid employing.  In a number of cases, the information provided was wholly false.  What makes blacklisting significant is not only that it has taken such a long time for victims to access any kind of justice, but that so many questions remain unanswered and that, despite legislative and policy efforts to prevent it, the practice still seems to be a feature of life in the construction industry.  For example, allegations have surfaced in Scotland that 28 workers were recently sacked for trade union activity and raising basic health and safety concerns by BFK, a conglomerate of construction companies holding substantial public sector contracts that are believe to include one with Transport Scotland, which builds Scotland’s road network.    (more…)

The Transparency in UK Company Supply Chains Bill: three lessons

Our guest post for this week has been written by Nicola Phillips; Professor of Political Economy at the University of Sheffield, UK. Professor Phillips currently holds a Major Research Fellowship from The Leverhulme Trust, which was awarded in 2010 for three years, for work on forced labour and human trafficking in the global and UK economies. She writes and speaks extensively on these issues, and is working on a book on the global political economy of forced labour and human trafficking which (she hopes!) will be completed by the end of this year.  

The issues of human trafficking and slavery in global supply chains have been somewhat in vogue of late, particularly in the United States. The state of California brought into force its innovative Transparency in Supply Chains (TISC) Act in 2012, obliging large firms doing business in or with California to report on the steps that they are taking to address trafficking in their supply chains. The focus on supply chains was central to US President Barack Obama’s major statement on trafficking in September 2012, and labour rights made a strong showing in the United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, endorsed in 2011. (more…)