Report: Trafficking Persists in Agriculture

Report: Trafficking Persists in Agriculture

Solidarity Center
Solidarity Center
Report: Trafficking Persists in Agriculture

The trafficking of agriculture workers, including children, is widespread globally, and “practices of exceptionalism” limit workers’ rights to freedom of association, organizing and collective bargaining, according to a new report on trafficking in persons in agriculture from United Nations Special Rapporteur Siobhán Mullally.

“Characterized by high levels of informality, lack of oversight and protection, trafficking in persons remains a serious concern within the agricultural sector, affecting both adults and children,” she writes.  

The report notes that while the COVID-19 pandemic saw agricultural workers designated as “essential,” worker protections did not follow. Indeed, temporary, seasonal and migrant workers are provided limited legal coverage, and restrictive migration policies persist despite the demand for agricultural workers. 

Findings include:

  • Discrimination on the grounds of race, ethnicity, migration status, gender and disability creates conditions within which trafficking occurs with impunity.
  • Land inequality, particularly affecting women and girls, drives exploitation, including trafficking for forced labor.
  • The agriculture sector employs an estimated 28 percent of the total global labor force and an estimated 60 percent of the labor force in low-income countries. Because it is characterized by high levels of informal and seasonal employment, the risks of exploitation are also high.
  • Discrimination based on migration status leaves workers vulnerable to trafficking.
  • Gender inequality in land ownership and tenure contributes to poverty, dependency and risks of violence, including trafficking of women and girls. Women are estimated to make up 20 percent of the world’s landholders but account for 43 percent of agricultural workers.
  • Indigenous women and girls may experience increased risks of trafficking due to the intersection of discrimination and violence, based on gender, race, ethnicity, indigenous origin and poverty.
  • People with disabilities may be particularly at risk of trafficking in agricultural work,  where there is limited oversight and monitoring of worker rights. 
  • Agriculture is the entry point for child labor, accounting for 76.6 percent in child laborers ages 5-11 and 75.8 percent in children ages 12-14. Children who travel with parents migrating for work often miss out on their education, as well.

The Special Rapporteur also highlighted that recruitment practices for the sector–particularly of seasonal, temporary and migrant workers–increase risks of trafficking for forced labor. Recruitment processes and substantial recruitment and other fees often lead to debt bondage.

Meanwhile, “intensive agriculture and agribusinesses contribute negatively to climate change, reflecting the wider nexus between trafficking in persons, environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity and the climate crisis,” she writes.

The protection of all workers and their families “is essential to prevent trafficking,” she says, urging governments to, among other urgent actions: “Strengthen the capacity of trade unions, civil society organizations and human rights defenders to support agricultural workers, including through effective protection of rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly and to collective organizing and collective bargaining, without discrimination.”

The Special Rapporteur’s report was bolstered by a submission from the Solidarity Center related to the conditions for migrant workers in Jordan’s agriculture sector. The submission noted:

Migrant workers work very long hours in hazardous conditions that lack occupational,  safety and health (OSH) standards, medical care and overtime compensation. Forced overtime is an indicator of forced labor under ILO standards. The agricultural sector in general is an informal economy sector, and the work is usually temporary or seasonal. Agricultural areas are isolated and far from service centers; therefore, agricultural workers who suffer from labor and human rights violations do not have access to justice. Forced labor and wage theft are common violations, although usually not reported because of limited access to justice, absence of labor inspection and fears of retaliation and other threats workers face, especially undocumented or irregular workers. Because these workers were not recognized as workers under Jordanian labor law until May 2021, they lacked access to labor courts and were forced to file complaints through civil courts, which do not exempt court fees, making this an inaccessible complaint process for agricultural workers.


The kafala system requires migrant workers to be fully reliant on their employers for legal status. In the case that an employer does not renew a work permit, the worker is punished with deportation and a ban from returning to Jordan for three years. Workers are often deported without receiving their owed wages and other compensation–a form of wage theft, which is also an ILO indicator of forced labor. In cases where agricultural workers leave a workplace to escape harassment, rights violations and forced labor without reporting such violations, they are subject to an overstay fine, which is 1.5 Jordanian dinars per day (approximately $2) and they are subject to detention and false or retaliatory theft accusations by their employers, essentially becoming undocumented workers. Migrant workers rarely if ever report violations, fearing employer harassment or retaliation. Undocumented workers are victims of exploitation by brokers and fixers who charge excessive fees for work permits. A Syrian woman worker said, “Syrian agricultural workers’ wages are the lowest not because they accept to work for low wages but because the shaweesh (the middleman) takes a percentage of their wages.”

The Special Rapporteur’s report cited these examples and supported the Solidarity Center’s conclusion in its submission: “Trade unions are important to combat forced labor and other forms of labor trafficking and exploitation, and to raise workers’ awareness about their rights and the available services and access to justice channels.

“The explicit exclusion of both migrant workers and workers in the agricultural sector is a violation of these workers’ fundamental right to freedom of association under the Constitution of Jordan and international human and labor rights as enshrined in the ICCPR, ICESCR and ILO Conventions 87 and 98. The right to freedom of association is fundamental in a workers’ ability to advocate for her/his own rights, protect themselves from forced labor, and ensure protections from GBVH, and other occupational hazards.”

South Africa LGBTI Dialogue Raises Awareness among Unions

In Limpopo, a landlocked rural area in South Africa’s northernmost province, agriculture and mining are the primary industries, nearly 75 percent of residents fall below the country’s poverty line and many cling to long-held cultural and religious biases. In this difficult environment, workers who identify as LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) face frequent discrimination at the workplace, even though it is prohibited under the South African Constitution.

“Discrimination is bad—employers want us to dress a certain way, they want us to pretend to be what we are not,” said one young lesbian member of the Limpopo LGBTI group, Proudly Out. “I am seen as a demon.”

The worker was among 60 participants in a recent dialogue session, “LGBTI Rights in the Workplace,” organized by sponsors, the Solidarity Center, the Labour Rights for Women and others.

The discussion in Polokwane, Limpopo’s capital, included LGBTI workers and union leaders from South Africa’s four labor federations: the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the National Council of Trade Unions (NACTU), the Confederation of South Africa Workers’ Unions (CONSAWU) and the Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA).

Members of the LGBTI community spoke of not being taken seriously in interviews for jobs because they did not look “conventional.” Some said they were prohibited by their employer from taking time off work to care for a partner, a right guaranteed under the country’s Family Responsibility Leave policy. Others described being called names and being shunned by colleagues in spaces such as workplace bathrooms.

The low level of information about the LGBTI community in Limpopo results in prejudice and makes it difficult for LGBTI workers to access their constitutional rights in the province and in their respective communities, according to Nhlanhla Mabizela, Solidarity Center program officer for gender in South Africa.

Further, some members of the LGBTI community, particularly those in rural areas, do not know how to access their rights, according to a representative of the South African Commission for Gender Equality who also took part in the forum, along with the Labour Research Service.

The meeting also highlighted the need for more awareness among unions about the struggles of LGBTI workers so they could effectively stand up for LGBTI issues at work. Federation leaders agreed to hold similar LGBTI education and dialogue meetings with their local unions to help ensure LGBTI rights were recognized at the workplace and during contract negotiations.

The meeting in Limpopo is the third such LGBTI dialogue spearheaded by the’s Labour Rights for Women campaign in South Africa, as it works with trade unions and other civil society organizations to reverse the conditions that led one LGBTI participant to say: “We are hated for being who we are.”

Colombia: Afro-Descendant Domestic Workers Form Union


UTRASD President Maria Roa Borja seeks to increase membership to better defend domestic workers’ rights. Photo: Borja Facebook page

Afro-Colombian women recently launched the Union of Domestic Service Workers (Unión de Trabajadoras del Servicio Domestíco, UTRASD), the first-ever union in Colombia created entirely by Afro-descendent women.

UTRASD President Maria Roa Borja says she hopes to increase the union’s membership so it can become a powerful actor in defense of domestic workers’ rights. “I am going to give this all my effort … for all Afro-Colombian women, so that the union moves forward and all the rights of all Afro-Colombian women are valued here in Colombia,” Borja told news channel TeleMedellín.  The new union was formed through the support of two Colombian nongovernmental organizations, Escuela Nacional Sindical (ENS) and Corporación Carabantú, and the Solidarity Center.

Some 236,000 Afro-Colombians live in Medellin, Colombia’s second largest city. Of these, half are women, many of whom moved to the city in search of economic opportunities. An in-depth study of female domestic workers in Medellin by ENS and Corporación Carabantú, found that nearly a quarter of those interviewed were victims of forced displacement. Further, nearly 98 percent  of domestic workers interviewed are single heads of households with children.

“These women suffer from triple discrimination, and in the case of Medellin, almost a quarter are displaced from their territories, which puts them in a situation of greater vulnerability,” Ramon Perea, director of Carabantú, told ENS. “But it is in the workplace that they experience the greatest discrimination.” Domestic workers are especially vulnerable to workplace abuse. Around the world, between 50 million and 100 million people—the vast majority of them women—labor as domestic workers.

The study found that 85 percent of respondents do not have written work contracts. Most are not paid the legal minimum wage nor do they receive overtime.  More than half of the women surveyed reported racial discrimination at work.

Pin It on Pinterest