November 28, 2012—Human trafficking thrives in an environment of worker exploitation and engenders forced labor, debt bondage and other egregious labor abuse. The most effective way to address this scourge, says Neha Misra, Solidarity Center senior specialist on migration and human trafficking, is by empowering workers to have a voice in their workplace and supporting their right to organize and join unions.
|Photo: Thomas Swain
Misra testified in the U.S. House today during a hearing on Global Trends in Trafficking and Forced Labor held by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. The hearing examined issues related to human trafficking and forced labor, including recruitment agencies, business transparency, employment-based visa trafficking and supply chain monitoring. (Read the full transcript and watch the hearing.)
“Immigrant workers are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking,” said Misra. “Unsafe migration processes and the lack of labor and other legal protections for immigrant workers make them an easy target for traffickers in the form of unscrupulous labor recruiters and employers.”
The creation of so-called guestworker programs and the rise of “labor recruiters” has exacerbated the problems inherent in labor migration. Temporary labor migration or “guestworker” schemes, increasingly promoted by governments to fill demand for cheap labor, “create a legalized system and structure for employers to exploit workers and increase workers’ vulnerability to human trafficking and other forms of severe labor exploitation, including forced labor,” said Misra. Further, although there are many ethical labor recruiters, too many “charge exorbitant fees for their services, forcing workers into debt bondage, falsify documents and deceive workers about their terms and conditions of work increasing vulnerability to human trafficking.”
Ultimately, says Misra, “when labor laws and regulations are not implemented, monitored or enforced—when labor inspection is weak or nonexistent—workers are vulnerable to trafficking for forced labor and other forms of severe labor exploitation.”
Noting that trade unions and labor support organizations play an important role in combating human trafficking, she described several Solidarity Center efforts to create practical, sustainable solutions, including the following.
• “In Kenya, we built the capacity of the Kenyan Union of Domestic, Hotel, Educational Institution, Hospital and Allied Workers (KUDHEIHA) in the high-tourist coastal areas to train their members in the tourist sector to recognize trafficking for sexual exploitation in their hotels, and establish a referral network to rescue victims.”
• In Indonesia, Hong Kong, Kenya, and the Dominican Republic, the Solidarity Center is helping empower domestic workers to fight for their rights and reduce their vulnerability to forced labor and human trafficking. This includes organizing domestic workers and advocacy to include them within domestic labor laws. The Solidarity Center also worked with domestic worker partners around the world to negotiate and pass the new International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, a prevention tool against the trafficking of domestic workers.
Also testifying today: Ambassador Luis CdeBaca from the Office to monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons; Siddharth Kara, a fellow from Harvard’s Carr Center Program on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery; Mohamed Mattar, executive director of The Protection Project and Mary Ellison, policy director at the Polaris Project.
Read Misra's full testimony here.