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ILO Report: Exploitation Costs Migrants $21 bn a Year

On May 13, 2009

Corrupt recruitment practices cheat migrant workers out of $21 billion each year, according to an ILO report released on Tuesday. Construction workers, domestics, seasonal labourers and drivers are caught in a system of modern day slavery, according to the report, which cites

"collusion between recruiters in sending countries and employers in destination countries to trick these vulnerable migrants out of fair wages and employment conditions."

The ILO calls for tighter regulation of recruitment of migrant labourers in order to end what it calls 'a modern form of debt bondage'.

The ILO estimates that 12.3 million worldwide work are in some form of bondage or forced labour. This includes 4.2 million sex workers and 8.1 million labourers working in agriculture, manufacturing and construction

Forced labour is a global problem which takes many forms. Seasonal labourers in Africa are regularly denied their wages, according to the report, while labourers in garment factories and farms in Latin America are subject to abuse and forced overtime.

The report also highlights the systematic exploitation of workers in the Gulf states:

Labour laws in the Middle East give employers undue control over their staff, including workers who travel across Africa and Asia to work in construction, the report said. Inflated visa charges, high recruitment and transit fees, and altered contract terms have also been a problem for migrants travelling to Gulf states from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and other countries, the ILO said.

The system of bonded labour in the Gulf relies on corrupt manpower agents brokers in key sending countries, such as Pakistan, Nepal and the Philippines. But it also requires the complicity of companies and individual employers in the Gulf.

The majority of migrant workers come from the developing world and go overseas to work in order to send money to families and communities back home. For many countries in the developing world, remittances are a key source of foreign exchange, and can account for up to 14% of GDP (as is the case in the Philippines. For more detailed information on the global remittances economy check out this resource from the Migration Policy Institute) So this kind of bonded labour is not just an abuse of individual human rights, but also deprives communities in the developing world of a vital source of income as unscrupulous brokers and employers syphon off money to line their own pockets.

Global forced labour and human trafficking reaps profits of about $36 billion every year, according to the ILO, which says that it has taken years for governments to aknowledge the issue. One of the biggest problems is that laws concerning migrant workers are often ill-defined. The unregulated nature of migrant labour also leavers workers especially vulnerable to abuse

As Roger Plant, one of the authors of the report, told CNN:

"There's a whole lot of gray areas where intermediate agents, sub-brokers, are taking advantage of loopholes in the law in order to extract large amounts of money from vulnerable people, uninformed (people) who are going off to work in a country where they don't speak the language.....There is some absolutely flagrant forced labor where the offenders must be put behind bars. Forced labor is a serious criminal offense and must be treated as such..... We're finding is that there is a number of totally unknown, unlicensed and unregulated labor workers at the bottom end of the market, and there is broker after broker, intermediate after intermediate getting cash -- getting some money from the worker. Usually it is in the very much down the bottom in the informal sector, in the developing countries, but we are finding that sometimes this is pervading even larger recruitment agencies."

The ILO's report is a timely and shocking reminder of the gravity of the global problem of exploitation of migrants, and joins them in calling upon governments to crack down on the corrupt recruiters and corporations who perpetuate this abuse