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OPINION: Want to protect migrants from trafficking? Make recruitment fair

Thomson Reuters Foundation News, United States, 12 July 2021 - Until governments that import low-cost migrant labour take steps to ensure that employers pay the full costs of worker recruitment then it’s migrant workers who will pay

In June every year, labour and interior ministers around the world shift slightly awkwardly in their seats.

The unease is typically more pronounced in developing countries in the global south, for whom the annual release of US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons report rankings can have political and financial consequences.

A Tier 1 ranking serves as the gold standard, whereas countries who find themselves in Tier 3 are on the naughty step.

The U.S.’s assumption of the role as global policeman of the modern anti-slavery movement has not been without controversy, and its ranking system has a hard political edge to it, but the report undoubtedly focuses the minds and shape the policies of many governments.

And yet for all the focus on trafficking since the turn of the century and the near universal ratification of the Palermo Protocol, wherein states resolve to effectively outlaw “trafficking in persons”, states have paid far less attention to serious abuses associated with the global recruitment industry.

This industry exists to furnish countries with labour shortages in low-paid sectors of their economies with workers from abroad, and with migrant workers accounting for nearly 5% of the global workforce it’s very big business.

These labour shortages often arise not from any demographic deficit, but rather the adoption of low-wage business models - cheaper labour from abroad will do low-paid work in sectors like agriculture, construction and domestic care, for less than nationals will accept.

Thus Thailand (an upper-middle income economy) supplies all the labour for the agricultural sector in Israel (a high income economy), and Myanmar (a lower-middle income economy) in turn provides Thailand with upwards of three million low-paid workers.



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