When Mwahamisi Josiah Makori arrived in Saudi Arabia in 2014 at the home of her employer, she was given 20 minutes to rest before beginning her duties as a domestic worker. Her employers held their noses when they greeted her and made her shower outside before allowing her in the house.
Her responsibilities involved cleaning two homes, including that of the employer’s mother-in-law. She was required to take care of the children, and when they spit on her, her employer told her not to complain. She was up all night caring for the baby and by 6 a.m., preparing the family’s breakfast.
She was given a torn, dirty mat to sleep on, and when she requested a new mat, her employer refused, telling her she was only there for work. In the middle of her tasks, she was required to stop and flush the toilet after a family member used the bathroom.
Makori was required to hold the baby throughout the day as she cooked, cleaned and cared for the other children. One afternoon, when she put the baby down to store groceries, the baby crawled to a cabinet. Alarmed, she called out. Her employer began beating her, saying she was making the baby nervous. They took her to the police authorities and told them she slept all day and refused to work.
She finally was able to convince the police of her plight, and an officer told her employer to pay her way home. The employer refused, but the employer’s mother-in-law paid her way to Kenya.
In Kenya, Makori had struggled to support her three children as a single mother. She was desperate for paid employment when her best friend introduced her to a labor broker who was traveling from village to village. Makori could not afford to pay her children’s school fees, and says she felt she had no choice but to leave the country for work.
After three months of nearly non-stop labor in Saudi Arabia, Makori returned to Kenya. Without pay.
Edias was 12 years old when he traveled from Zimbabwe to South Africa to look for a job in agriculture. Now in his mid-twenties, he and other farm workers had been working 12 hour days, 7 days a week, and paid less than half the legal minimum wage when they asked the corporate farm owner for a raise last year.
Instead, they were assaulted and clubbed by a group of men led by the farm owner. Their homes—they lived on the farm—were burned. Edias described to Solidarity Center staff how he and four other workers were kidnapped, tortured and interrogated for hours before police arrived. (Find out how the Solidarity Center achieved justice for some of the migrant workers.)
Edias and his co-workers are among 34 million African migrants, the majority of whom are in search of decent work across borders. While an estimated 25 percent of African migrants are in Europe, the majority of migrants remain within the continent, often working in the most dangerous, unregulated jobs where they are paid little and have few rights.
Migration Conference to Address Trade Union Responses to Worker Exploitation
From January 25–27, the Solidarity Center will co-host a conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, that will bring together union leaders, migrant worker rights advocates and top international human rights officials from 22 countries and 57 organizations from around the globe to share strategies for empowering migrant workers throughout Africa.
“Achieving Fair Migration: Roles of African Trade Unions and Their Partners,” will explore best practices for asserting a worker rights agenda into national, regional and global migrant worker policies and examine tactics for strengthening cross-border and cross-regional cooperation among unions and other migrant rights organizations.
Maina Kiai, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly and of association, will keynote the conference and discuss findings from the landmark report his office presented to the UN last fall. “Migrants have become a massive, disposable, low-wage workforce excluded from remedies or realistic opportunities to bargain collectively for improved wages and working conditions,” according to the report.
Vame Jele, who heads up the Swaziland Migrant Mineworkers Association (SWAMMIWA), will be among some 100 conference participants. SWAMMIWA advocates for migrant workers, especially for migrant miners, truck drivers, forestry workers, domestic workers and farm workers
“Beside networking and establishing partnership with unions, organizations and associations, we aim to learn and share knowledge especially on how we can advocate,” says Jele. He also seeks to raise awareness “and call for solidarity” around the issues of former miners and their families.
Migrant miners who contract silicosis and tuberculosis from working without safety equipment are sent back to their origin countries with no support for medical care. As a result, Jele says, many former miners are dying and their families are in poverty because they have lost their primary breadwinner. SWAMMIWA last month coordinated a policy dialogue around migration issues in Swaziland and advocates to harmonize policies and regulations in the South Africa Development Community (SADC) to abolish inhumane treatment of migrant workers and involve migrant workers in union bargaining.
‘African Unions Can Take a Lead in Shaping Labor Migration Policies’
The prevalence of informal jobs and the lack of recognition of migrant worker’s status “creates opportunities for exploitation and difficulties for unions to organize and represent migrant workers,” says Caroline Mugalla, executive secretary of the East African Trade Union Confederation (EATUC), who also will participate in the conference.
“And as women migrant workers become a larger component of migration, particular challenges arise as they tend to be relegated to the informal economy, face sexual harassment and gender-based violence in the workplace more often than men, and experience nationality and gender-based economic and social discrimination in the workplace.”
The “Fair Labor Migration” conference provides a forum for African trade unionists to coordinate strategies for reaching out to and empowering migrant workers, many of whom are part of the large and growing informal economy. Participants will discuss shaping a trade union agenda against xenophobia and racism, including strategies for tackling discrimination and xenophobia in unionized and non-unionized workplaces; the challenges of organizing and addressing migrant worker exploitation in the informal sector; increasing opportunities for migrant workers to exercise their rights and access justice; and labor protections.
“African trade unions can take a lead in helping shape the global governance of migration and promoting migrant worker rights at all levels of government,” says Solidarity Center Africa Regional Director Imani Countess.
“Government officials, businesses and corporate interests have sought to ‘manage’ the movement of migrants like everyday commodities through temporary migration programs and unregulated migration flows that benefit employers at the expense of workers.” The “Achieving Fair Migration” conference will provide a forum for exploring how to enhance African labor voices in global and regional migration governance policy.
The conference, co-sponsored by the African Regional Organization of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-Africa), will include regional breakouts and opportunity for discussion around area-specific migration issues and hands-on strategic workshops with concrete action plans on union cross-border cooperation, organizing migrant workers and more.
When the employer of a migrant domestic worker takes her passport and refuses to return it if she seeks to leave, that is forced labor.
When a family works at a brick kiln to pay off a debt, their children prevented from attending school, that is forced labor.
When Uzbek teachers and doctors are mandated by the government to spend two months each fall picking cotton, that is forced labor.
Around the world, nearly 21 million people are forced laborers—11.4 million women and girls and 9.5 million men and boys. Ninety percent of forced labor takes place in the private economy, where it generates $150 billion in illegal profits per year.
Today, an International Labor Organization (ILO) Protocol on Forced Labor enters into force, requiring countries that ratify it to ensure the release, recovery and rehabilitation of people living in modern slavery. Adopted by the ILO in 2014, the protocol also protects workers from prosecution for any laws they were made to break while they were in forced labor.
The protocol and the accompanying recommendation supplement the 1930 ILO standard covering forced labor, Convention 29, and gives “new impetus to the global fight against all forms of forced labor, including trafficking in persons and slavery-like practices,” according to the ILO.
The protocol also bolsters the ILO’s 1957 Abolition of Forced Labor Convention 105. (Here’s a summary of the two forced labor conventions and the protocol.)
Protocol Would Compensate Those in Forced Labor
Among its provisions, the protocol:
- Guarantees forced laborers access to justice and compensation—even if they’re not legal residents of the country where they work.
- Protects individuals, especially migrant workers, from possible abusive and fraudulent practices during the labor recruitment and placement process.
- Requires employers to exercise “due diligence” to avoid modern slavery in their business practices or supply chains.
Nigeria was the first country to ratify the protocol and since then, eight more countries have done so. The ILO is urging people to join its 50 for Freedom campaign, which aims for 50 countries to ratify the protocol by 2018 to be truly effective.
Join Campaign Urging Countries to Pass Protocol!
Send a message to your labor minister urging passage of the protocol here. The action is hosted by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which is a member of the 50 for Freedom coalition, as is the Solidarity Center.
You also can sign up to get more information on the campaign and spread the word to your networks and on social media with the hashtag #50FF.
Additional 50 for Freedom materials include:
The following is crossposted from Equal Times.
On November 18, 2015, Norway ratified the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Forced Labor Protocol, which strengthens and updates the 1930 Forced Labor Convention (Convention 29) by adding new measures to prevent, protect and compensate those affected.
According to ILO data, some 21 million people globally are victims of forced labor, generating approximately $150 billion each year. However, the hidden nature of this and other forms of extreme labor exploitation mean the true figures could be much higher.
By becoming the second country in the world after Niger to sign the UN treaty, Norway has ensured that the Protocol will be brought into force next November.
“Norway’s ratification will help millions of children, women and men reclaim their freedom and dignity,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder in a statement. “It represents a strong call to other member states to renew their commitment to protect forced laborers, where ever they may be.”
Renée Rasmussen, Confederal Secretary of the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions, said: “The world has changed dramatically since 1930, but in many societies the issues that Convention 29 was created to deal with are still unpleasantly current.”
Although 56 per cent (11.7 million), 18 per cent (3.7 million) and 9 per cent (1.8 million) of all forced labourers are found in Asia, Africa and Latin America respectively, the reach of modern-day slavery crosses countries, continents and sectors.
Workers in agriculture, fishing, manufacturing, domestic work and mining in the Global South are particularly vulnerable, while in advanced economies huge profits are generated from forced labor in supply chains.
“Our experience [in Norway] is that forced labor seems to appear together with social dumping and violations of the Working Environment Act (labor laws) and criminal activities,” Rasmussen explained.
The ILO recently joined forces with the International Trade Union Confederation and the International Organization of Employers to the promote the ratification of the Protocol, primarily through the 50 for Freedom campaign.
By mobilizing public support, it is hoped that 50 countries will ratify the Forced Labor Protocol by 2018. It the ultimate aim is universal ratification of Convention 29—as eight countries, including the United States and China are yet to do so—and the Protocol by 2030.
While various countries have expressed support for the campaign, a number of African countries appear to be taking the lead. Mauritania has started the legislative process to ratify the Protocol and last month the Zambian president Edgar Lungu signalled his country’s commitment to eliminate modern slavery.
“My country will lead by example in taking the necessary steps required towards ratification of the Protocol,” he told delegates at a regional ILO conference on trafficking and forced labour in the Zambian capital of Lusaka.
Speaking at the same conference, Cosmas Mukuka, Secretary General of the Zambian Confederation of Trade Unions explain why the ratification is so important.
“Zambia continues to be the transit point for human trafficking in Africa meaning that enforcement of Convention 29 on forced labour remains a challenge and therefore calls for a regional strategy to effectively combat forced labour and human trafficking.”
Ahead of the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, Urmila Bhoola, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, called on states, business and civil society to intensify the fight against modern slavery in supply chains.
“Modern slavery is particularly difficult to detect beyond the first tier of complicated supply chains of transnational businesses,” she said.
“However, these forms of slavery can be rooted out through a multi-stakeholder and multi-faceted approach ensuring that all business operations and relationships are based on human rights, that those responsible for supply chain-related human rights violations are held accountable and that the victims are guaranteed the right to effective judicial and non-judicial remedy and appropriate and timely assistance aimed at empowering them.”
Nurul Islam and three other men from his village in Burma’s Rakhine state believed the Rohingya brokers who promised to take them to Malaysia for jobs. Instead, the men were herded at gunpoint deep into a forest with 350 other migrant women, men and children, and told if they did not pay up to $2,300 each, they would be beaten and killed.
Beaten by his captors over four days, Nurul, 30, eventually called his uncle in Malaysia who agreed to pay the traffickers. But after he was released and contacted the police, he was taken to a government shelter where he again was deceived—a government official demanded $560 dollars for his release.
In a rare case of justice for survivors of human trafficking, the official, Anat Hayeemasae, a member of the Satun Provincial Administration Organization, was sentenced yesterday to more than 22 years in prison for human trafficking and ordered to pay Nurul $3,560.
Lawyers Working with HRDF Key to Prosecution
The success resulted from a more than year-long effort by lawyers working with the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF), a Solidarity Center ally. They joined with the Rohingya Association of Thailand to investigate and file charges.
The result, says HRDF Secretary General Somchai Homlaor, “serves the objectives of HRDF’s Anti Human Trafficking in Labor Project to provide legal aid to a victim of human trafficking and to ensure the right of the victim of human trafficking to have access to justice process.”
Anat was found guilty of violating Thailand’s 2008 Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act and its 1979 Immigration Act, among other charges. He was among government officials from the Immigration Office who rescued Nural in March 2014 at Songkhla’s Hat Yai bus terminal.
Massive Human Trafficking in Thailand
Anat’s prosecution is especially noteworthy in an area where massive human trafficking occurs with impunity. In May, hundreds of bodies were found in 139 mass graves at suspected human trafficking camps on the border of Malaysia and Thailand. According to local news, Malaysian border patrol knew about the camps for 10 years, says Karuppiah Somasundram, education director for the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC). No arrests have been made.
Last month, the U.S. State Department retained Thailand on the bottom ranking of its annual Trafficking in Persons Report. The “Tier 3” ranking means Thailand is failing to comply with minimum standards to address human trafficking.
Migrant workers, primarily from Burma and Cambodia, work in slave-like conditions on Thai fishing boats, fueling the country’s $7 billion seafood export industry and making it the world’s third-largest exporter. Many migrant workers toil in forced labor and are held against their will on the boats where they are beaten and even killed. A Guardian series last year reported on the horrors endured by migrant workers who often are tricked by labor recruiters and sold into bondage. Estimates of migrant workers in Thailand range from 200,000 to 500,000.
A 2013 survey by the International Labor Organization (ILO) of nearly 600 workers in the Thai fishing industry found that almost none had a signed contract, and about 40 percent had wages cut without explanation. Children were also found on board. A 2009 U.N. report found that about six out of 10 migrant workers on Thai fishing boats reported seeing a co-worker killed. In another report, migrant workers say they were trafficked and forced to work for up to 20 hours per day with little or no pay. Many migrant workers in Thailand are in debt bondage.