Labor Migration and Human Trafficking

The Solidarity Center joins with migrant workers, trade unions, governments and civil society coalitions around the globe to create community and workplace-based safe migration and counter-trafficking strategies that emphasize prevention, protection and the rule of law.

A Burmese migrant worker outside the fish canning factory where she works. Credit: Solidarity Center/Jeanne Hallacy

See highlights from the Aug. 10-12 event, Labor Migration: Who Benefits? A Solidarity Center Conference on Worker Rights and Shared Prosperity, in Bogor, Indonesia.

Labor migration feeds the global economy. There are more than 150 million migrant workers worldwide who generated global remittances of more than $580 billion in 2013. They are domestic workers, construction and agricultural workers, factory and service workers, teachers and professionals. Migrant workers often travel long distances due to a lack of decent work at home to support their families and build a better life.

One of the most significant issues for the global economic, social and democratic development communities is addressing the conditions under which migrants travel and work. Because the economies of many countries have come to rely on the remittances of migrant workers, even as destination countries depend upon their cheap labor, governments and business interests seek to “manage” the movement of migrants as if they are commodities. Often the result comes at the expense of the workers, who are usually denied even the most basic human rights. Labor rights organizations have a vision of labor migration that promotes shared prosperity by lifting up and empowering workers in both origin and destination countries.

Maina Kiai, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association, Solidarity Center, migration, human trafficking

“You Don’t Lose Your Rights When You Leave a Country”—Maina Kiai, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of association. See Kiai’s full video greetings to the 2015 Solidarity Center migration conference.

Most destination countries continue to deny migrant workers fundamental labor rights such as freedom of association and the right to form unions. In many countries, migrant workers are explicitly excluded from labor law protections. Because labor costs increasingly are sliced to the bone, migrant workers are often forced to work in the informal economy, which is characterized by little government regulation, few legal protections, no benefits and a lack of labor standards.

In many developing countries, women workers increasingly represent the majority of migrant and informal economy workers. As more women migrate, they also become the largest group of exploited workers. They often are employed as domestic workers or in other jobs in which they are isolated, unable to join with other workers to improve working conditions.

Migrant workers are especially targets of human trafficking and forced labor, which have at their core, worker rights violations and a lack of labor standards and worker protections. One of the biggest factors underlying the vulnerability of migrant workers are the actions of unscrupulous labor brokers. Many labor brokers charge such exorbitant fees for securing work that migrant workers cannot repay them even after years on the job, essentially rendering them indentured workers. Some labor brokers also lie about the wages and working conditions workers should expect in a destination country. Migrant workers often are forced to remain in dangerous working conditions because their debt is too great.

For more than a decade, the Solidarity Center has advocated an approach to combating human trafficking, forced labor and other forms of severe labor exploitation that puts worker rights at the forefront of solutions and calls for the labor movement, and unions in particular, to be involved.

In countries around the world, the Solidarity Center supports its local allies to:

  • Educate workers who plan to work abroad about labor laws and workplace rights in their origin and destination countries.
  • Promote union-run legal aid, counseling and information centers.
  • Advocate for greater regulation of labor recruitment processes and the elimination of recruitment fees.
  • Helps draft and pass improved anti-trafficking and safe migration legislation.
  • Establish relationships between migrant rights organizations, government officials and trade unions in origin and destination countries to promote migrant worker rights, increase access to justice for migrant workers and help migrant workers to exercise their right to organize.