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”.

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.


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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Qatar and FIFA should respond to boycott calls with action

Qatar and FIFA should respond to boycott calls with action

Image courtesy of The Workers Cup film

In light of an investigation by The Guardian newspaper which detailed a troubling rate and number of unexplained migrant worker deaths in Qatar, FairSquare is calling on the Qatari authorities to put in place a series of protective measures to better protect the lives of low-paid migrant workers in the country.

The Guardian’s reporting has prompted supporters groups in Norway and Germany to call for their national teams to boycott Qatar 2022. Qatar has responded to The Guardian by saying that “the mortality rate among these [migrant worker] communities is within the expected range for the size and demographics of the population.” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said that boycotts are “not the right approach” and that “engagement and dialogue is the only and the best way forward to make changes happen.” 

Individuals and organisations will form their own views about what approach to take. However, whatever position football associations choose to adopt on boycotts, it is undoubtedly the case that supporters making these calls are expressing legitimate concerns about issues of life and death. These should be taken seriously. The Qatari authorities should respond to supporters’ concerns with action on the issue of worker deaths, rather than making broad-brush, unsubstantiated claims. FIFA should make the case for such action publicly.

The Guardian found that there have been 6,750 deaths of migrants from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in Qatar since 2010. It found that 69% of those deaths were effectively unexplained, as they did not include any reference to the underlying cause of death, instead using terms such as “natural causes” or “cardiac arrest.”

These findings are consistent with those of a diverse range of credible organisations that point to serious failings on this issue. In 2014, the Government of Qatar commissioned a major report by the law firm DLA Piper which found that the number of deaths attributed to cardiac arrest was “seemingly high” and recommended that the government commission an independent study into the issue. There is no evidence that any such investigation ever took place. In 2017, Human Rights Watch made a series of recommendations in relation to migrant worker deaths, calling on the Qatari authorities to: release data; conduct investigations; reform laws to protect workers from heat; and perform autopsies. None of these recommendations have ever been implemented. 

There are myriad factors that any investigation into unexplained deaths should consider, including working and living conditions, nutrition, air quality, and heat. In July 2019, a peer-reviewed paper published in Cardiology journal, authored by cardiologists, epidemiologists and heat-stress specialists, concluded that as many as 200 of 571 deaths of Nepalese workers in Qatar between 2009 and 2017 could have been prevented “if effective heat protection had been implemented as a part of local occupational health and safety programs.” In October 2019, a FAME laboratory report for the ILO and Qatari authorities found that the government’s existing heat measures – a blunt summer working hours ban – was “insufficient” to prevent heat stress. The ban was subsequently extended but remains demonstrably inadequate. As the FAME report detailed, the Supreme Committee has implemented heat mitigation measures on World Cup stadium projects additional to those afforded to the rest of the country’s workforce. Supreme Committee projects account for between 2 and 3 percent of all construction workers in Qatar. Nevertheless, deaths on Supreme Committee projects fall into a similar pattern, with many unexplained deaths of relatively young men, with no evidence of underlying health conditions.

In June 2019, FairSquare asked FIFA, in a letter, to call publicly on the Qatari authorities to commission an independent investigation into worker deaths. We provided analysis of the then available data on worker deaths and suggested that if the annual death rate was typical, the unexplained death toll in Qatar would far exceed 3000 since the country won the right to host the tournament in 2010. The Guardian’s 2021 reporting suggests the unexplained death toll exceeds 5,000. In 2020, FIFA’s Human Rights Advisory board said there was an “urgent need for FIFA to act” on concerns about “the number and nature of “non-work-related deaths” occurring in connection with FWC 2022 construction and more broadly in the country”, noting the lack of transparency on this issue beyond data presented by the Supreme Committee.

The Government of Qatar’s official response to The Guardian’s investigation was that “the mortality rate among these [migrant worker] communities is within the expected range for the size and demographics of the population.” The statement asserts that, “there has been a consistent decline in the mortality rate as a result of the health and safety reforms we have introduced” and that, “as part of our efforts to reduce the mortality rate further, we have raised awareness of health risks such as smoking and an unhealthy diet.”

Qatar has never responded to repeated requests for data on this issue over many years, thereby precluding any useful or informed comparison of mortality statistics. More critically, it has failed to instigate a detailed investigation into migrant worker deaths without which it will be impossible to understand precisely how these workers are dying and what needs to be done to prevent more deaths.

Labour reform programme
Concerns about the rights of workers in Qatar have extended beyond the issue of worker deaths. Qatar entered into a programme of technical assistance with the International Labour Organization in 2017. Since then it has made a series of reforms, including abolishing the exit permit, introducing new processes for workers seeking compensation for wage theft, setting a national minimum wage, and passing a law giving domestic workers some labour rights in law. Of particular note is Qatar’s 2020 removal of restrictions on migrant workers changing jobs without their employer’s permission – the key element of its kafala system. 

While these and other measures certainly have the potential to transform its labour system, nevertheless there remain serious concerns around progress with implementation of several of these reforms. We draw attention to the analysis of groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and, which provide credible and informed independent analysis. In particular:

Human Rights Watch’s August 2020 report which found that despite recent labour reforms, employers in Qatar still “frequently delay, withhold, or arbitrarily deduct workers’ wages…  often withhold contractually guaranteed overtime payments and end-of service benefits, and … regularly violate their contracts with migrant workers with impunity.” In the worst cases, workers told Human Rights Watch that employers simply stopped paying their wages, and they often struggled to feed themselves. 

Amnesty International’s November 2020 progress report, which concluded that Qatar “must ensure full implementation and enforcement of the reforms introduced to date, get serious about holding abusive employers to account, and take action to address major weaknesses in key areas” and “must also give particular attention to the situation faced by the country’s domestic workers, who face severe and widespread abuse away from the spotlight of the World Cup.”

– A report by from January 2021 detailing concerns about the implementation of the key September 2020 kafala reform, seemingly driven by the government’s desire to pre-empt a backlash from the country’s business community, which opposed the reform. Amnesty, among others, have raised concerns about recent proposals by Qatar’s Shura Council which would largely undo the kafala reform if they were approved.

– The Qatar country report published by the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism at the 44th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in July 2020. The report describes how, in Qatar “nationality and national origin entrench de facto castes among non-nationals according to which European, North American, Australian and Arab nationalities systematically enjoy greater human rights protections than South Asian and sub-Saharan African nationalities.” She also found that there is a “stratification of quality of life according to nationality and national origin” on a scale that “raises serious concerns of structural racial discrimination against non-nationals in Qatar.”

With respect to the deaths of migrant workers, Qatar should commit to transparently implementing, as soon as possible, the recommendations provided by Human Rights Watch in their September 2017 report on construction related deaths in Qatar:

– Release data on migrant worker deaths for the past five years, broken down by age, gender, occupation, and cause of death;
– Immediately replace the summer working hours ban with a legally binding requirement that employers adequately minimize the heat-stress risk to workers, including the prohibition of work at all times of unacceptable heat risk;
– Amend Law No. 2 of 2012 on Autopsy of Human Bodies to require medical examinations and allow forensic investigations, including autopsies if necessary, into all sudden or unexplained deaths; and
– Pass legislation to require that all death certificates include reference to a medically meaningful cause of death, such as a trauma, a disease, or a pathological process.

Qatar should also conduct a broader investigation into unexplained migrant worker deaths and include in its scope at a minimum the impact on workers’ health of poor housing, long working hours, the effectiveness of pre-departure medical examinations, and heat. 

In relation to labour reforms, the Government should move to implement the recommendations made by Amnesty International in its November 2020 progress report.

The unexplained deaths of migrant worker deaths are an issue of serious concern across the Gulf region. In January 2021, FairSquare launched a new research initiative into the deaths of Asian migrant workers in all six GCC countries: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The project will report later in 2021.

Download this statement in PDF

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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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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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