Launch of Five Corridors Project

Multi-country study urges wealthy states to take the strain to ensure fair recruitment of migrant workers and prevent abuse

“Five Corridors” Report into recruitment practices in nine countries urges destination states to do more to incentivize fair recruitment, and calls for the end of tied visa systems and discriminatory exclusions from labour protections. Origin states should fully enforce “zero fee” policies for their nationals.

Governments around the world, and particularly governments that host significant numbers of migrant workers, need to take more concerted action to prevent systematic abuses in transnational recruitment processes, a major research study said today. The FairSquare Five Corridors report, based on research in nine countries and five migration corridors, urged states to focus their resources on a series of key priority issues, and urged destination states to assume the burden of incentivizing fair recruitment models.

The Five Corridors project examined the problems faced by low-wage workers in international recruitment processes, as migration for work has increasingly become temporary or “circular”, with workers returning to their origin countries at the end of their contracts. Exploitation in these recruitment processes, which have spawned a global industry of private recruitment agencies to furnish complex labour supply chains, leave many millions of migrant workers around the world acutely vulnerable to serious human rights abuses, including the charging of exorbitant fees in exchange for jobs and deception over terms and conditions.

FairSquare Projects is a London-based non-profit human rights organization with a focus on migrant workers’ rights issues. The Five Corridors project focused on five labour migration corridors: Myanmar to Thailand; Nepal to Kuwait; Nepal to Qatar; Philippines to Taiwan; and Mexico to Canada.

Ensuring employers, not workers, pay the costs of recruitment
Drawing on more than 300 in-depth interviews with workers, government officials, businesses and activists, the report urges destination states to take more seriously their responsibility as regulators, and ensure that employers pay the full cost of migrant workers’ recruitment. In many countries, businesses expect to be able to hire migrant workers at little or no cost, knowing that the demand for better paid jobs is so high that workers will accept taking on large debts in order to finance their migration, leaving them at greater risk of forced labour and other abuse. In Thailand, Qatar and Taiwan, researchers found that some employers even charge recruitment agencies “kickback” bribes before they allow them to recruit on their behalf.

“Governments have gone to great lengths to show their commitment to tackling human trafficking and forced labour, yet the abusive recruitment processes that fuel exploitation continue,” said Ambassador (retd) Luis C.deBaca, Five Corridors Project senior adviser, who previously coordinated the US government’s global anti-trafficking work. “To date, the complexity of transnational recruitment has made it easy to dodge responsibility — this research fills that critical gap by using a wealth of evidence to chart a path forward for governments to confront this serious issue.”

Tied visas and exclusion from core labour protections
The report also finds that tied visas, which generally restrict migrant workers to a single employer and link their immigration status to their employment, play a major role in undermining fair recruitment, as they leave workers less able to complain or switch jobs in the event of fraud or abuse. All five destination countries in the study operate some form of tied visas. A worker from Myanmar told us his inability to switch jobs in Thailand was “like you are tied up and beaten up”, while a Mexican agricultural worker in Canada said the system “gives the employer the ability to impose everything he can over the worker, then the worker cannot even say ‘you know what, I’m going to look for work elsewhere’.”

Migrant workers working in domestic work, agriculture, fishing are often also excluded from labour laws, meaning they have little protection against being made to work extreme hours, fewer rights to breaks and days off, and may be unable to join trade unions.

“The combined effect of restrictive tied visa systems, leaving workers at risk of losing their immigration status if they complain, with blanket exemptions from basic protections, is to hugely undermine efforts at ensuring workers’ recruitment is genuinely fair,” said James Lynch, FairSquare’s founding co-director.

The report also calls on origin states, for their parts, to enforce full prohibitions on worker payment of recruitment fees, and urges all states to put in place more effective grievance systems for migrant workers, and to coordinate better across corridors to prevent abuse, including through considering government-government recruitment programmes.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated many of the drivers of migrant workers’ exploitation. The UN labour agency (ILO) has warned that exploitative recruitment fees are likely to increase in light of the contraction of many economies. While some migrant workers have been celebrated as “key workers”, hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs and been stranded in their host countries, often facing stigma and demonisation. In Kuwait, high-profile celebrities blamed migrant workers for the pandemic’s impact on the country, with one calling for them to be “thrown into the desert”, while in Thailand the Prime Minister fuelled xenophobia by blaming migrant workers for spreading the virus and saying they had “brought much grief”.

Background
Recent years have seen an expansion of efforts to develop consensus on the regulatory steps required to ensure fair recruitment. These have been led by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), complemented by the efforts of the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB), which stewarded the development of the Dhaka Principles. In 2018, the Global Compact on Migration saw UN member states making a series of commitments on fair recruitment.

A full copy of the report, with a summary of findings is available at the dedicated Five Corridors website. In addition to the main report, FairSquare have published separate, in-depth reports for the migration corridors under study. A launch event for the project’s findings is being held on 7 July 2021, in partnership with the IHRB.

For more information please contact James Lynch or Nick McGeehan.

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Five Corridors Project on fair recruitment – launch event

Event: Launch of Five Corridors Project on fair recruitment

FairSquare and the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB) are holding a joint event on Wednesday 7 July 2021, to discuss the fair recruitment of migrant workers. “Destination, Destination, Destination”: What governments can do to ensure fair and ethical recruitment will take place on the day FairSquare publishes its Five Corridors Project, a major research study.

REGISTER TO ATTEND THE EVENT (IHRB SITE)

The Five Corridors Project, which FairSquare has been working on since late 2019, aims to enhance understanding of how governments can strengthen regulatory and enforcement mechanisms to address abusive and fraudulent recruitment practices, resulting in more positive outcomes for workers. More than 300 workers, recruiters, employers, govt officials, activists and other experts have been interviewed as part of the study into the recruitment of migrant workers in five corridors:

1. Myanmar to Thailand 
2. Nepal to Kuwait 
3. Nepal to Qatar
4. Philippines to Taiwan 
5. Mexico to Canada

The study has examined the steps taken by governments to ensure the human rights of migrant workers in the recruitment process, against 44 common indicators based largely on the ILO General Principles and Operational Guidelines for Fair Recruitment.

Based on this research, the Five Corridors Project makes a set of key recommendations to destination and origin states, highlighting priority actions to prevent fraud and exploitation in migration and employment. Detailed reports into each corridor will also be made available on the dedicated Five Corridors website, which will go live on 7 July.

FairSquare has delivered the Five Corridors Project with the support of the Open Society FoundationsHumanity United and Porticus.

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Launch of Vital Signs project

New initiative to study deaths of migrant workers in the Gulf

FairSquare is launching the Vital Signs project, a new initiative to quantify and research the deaths of migrant workers in the six GCC states.

Nobody knows the true figure for many migrant workers die in the Gulf, or the causes of their deaths. But available statistics indicate it is many thousands of people every year, a large majority of working age.

Vital Signs, which is being supported by Humanity United, will run from 2021 to 2023. Each year of the project will see the publication of a statistical report, examining key trends related to the deaths of migrant workers from five Asian origin countries – Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Philippines – in the Gulf states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The reports will make tailored recommendations to governments and others.

Find out more about the Vital Signs project

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Covid-19 and migrant workers in the Gulf

NGO coalition calls on Gulf states to ensure protection of migrant workers during Covid-19 response

Credit: International Domestic Workers Federation

A coalition of trade unions and NGOs, including FairSquare Projects, has called on the Gulf states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to take steps to ensure that migrant workers receive adequate protection from Covid-19.

The groups are urging the Gulf governments to:
– Ensure equal access to testing and medical assistance for all workers, and to ensure that worker are not deterred from seeking assistance from fear of detention of deportation.
– Ensure sanctions imposed for violating quarantines do not include detention.
– Where possible, to seek input from national and sectoral trade unions; ensure that workers who are prevented from working continue to receive their wages and have an adequate standard of living. This includes monitoring businesses to ensure working conditions are safe and that businesses are implementing guidelines and requirements.
– Carry out public awareness-raising campaigns to ensure that workers, including domestic workers, do not face discrimination or stigma as a result of the pandemic.
– Ensure domestic workers are provided with access to timely and adequate healthcare, sick pay and protective equipment.

The call follows reports of a spike in cases of Covid-19 among migrant workers to the Gulf, largely attributed to poor and cramped living conditions, and a lack of adequate protective equipment. 

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Launch of the Five Corridors Project

FairSquare launches fair recruitment research project

In partnership with Open Societies Foundation and Humanity United, FairSquare Projects is embarking on a major research project on the fair recruitment of migrant workers.

The Five Corridors Project aims to enhance understanding of how governments can strengthen regulatory and enforcement mechanisms to address abusive and fraudulent recruitment practices, resulting in more positive outcomes for workers.

FairSquare is studying the recruitment of migrant workers in five corridors, selected because of the presence of expressed government commitments to reform, opportunities to build on private sector-led initiatives, or civil society organizations who may be in a position to make use of the research:

– Myanmar to Thailand 
– Nepal to Kuwait 
– Nepal to Qatar
– Philippines to Taiwan 
– Mexico to Canada

The study will focus on the role of governments, which play an essential part in ensuring ethical recruitment. There are extensive regulatory frameworks in many countries, but many fail to stamp out the abusive treatment migrants so often face. In comparison to the practical guidance that has been produced in recent years for global companies on steps to recruit ethically, less research has been done with the aim of galvanizing action by governments to address recruitment-related abuses.

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