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Symposium 2010

Proposal - Two steps towards protecting migrant workers from trafficking

The Challenge

At least 12 million people worldwide are trapped in conditions of forced labor, a fifth of them being exploited as a result of human trafficking. These forms of modern day slavery have become one of t ...

At least 12 million people worldwide are trapped in conditions of forced labor, a fifth of them being exploited as a result of human trafficking. These forms of modern day slavery have become one of the most profitable and most horrifying businesses in the world. Human trafficking and coerced labor are said to be the fastest growing source of income for organized crime and its third most important source after drugs and the arms trade.

A key vulnerability for migrant workers, and one which can lead to Forced Labour and Human Trafficking, is the role of recruitment agencies to bring workers across international borders or internally within large countries. A classic example of this is the recruitment in poorer countries, such as Vietnam and Bangladesh, to work in textile factories in other parts of the world - all too often bribes are paid to 'unofficial facilitators' in order to get the necessarily permissions and visas. Workers who owe large sums to intermediaries are much more likely to succumb to exploitation. Although different in nature, this can also be the case for Indian construction workers in Gulf States, domestic workers from Indonesia or the Philippines worldwide or undocumented Chinese workers in Europe (as the Morcombe Bay tragedy in the UK showed). What is needed is a basic international code of code for the recruitment of workers, that should not just apply to the recruitment industry itself (as it does through the 'Athens Principles') but also to all industries that use such intermediaries (such as agriculture, textiles, construction, domestic workers, hotels and catering and so on). The code will include two basic propositions: (i) That no worker should ever have to pay fees to any agency in advance of actually starting work (this includes bribes and unofficial payments); (ii) That travel documents should never be retained by employers in the receiving countries. Just these two simple steps would reduce the risk of business related human trafficking and forced labour significantly.

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