Mitigating risks for migrant workers

In the latest episode of The Business of Risk new host Rachel Weller (Senior Consultant at Sancroft International) talks to Anastasia Vynnychenko, Head of the Migration, Business and Human Rights programme at the International Organisation for Migration, and Neill Wilkins, Head of the Migration Workers Programme and the Institute for Human Rights and Business about the intricate challenges faced by migrant workers, their vulnerabilities to exploitation, and the imperative need for businesses to take responsible action.

Neill begins by addressing the nature of migrant workers and their status as individuals working and living in countries other than their own;

Migrant worker is any worker that’s working and living in a country of which they’re not a citizen. The last figures were 169 million migrant workers in the world, I think that that figure is probably quite a bit higher now. And that means one in 20 migrant workers – 5% of the global workforce are migrant workers.”

Neill Wilkins, The Business of Risk (Aug 2023)

Anastasia moves on to discuss how migrant workers remain susceptible to exploitation throughout their journey, from recruitment to employment and beyond. Recruitment fees, inadequate information about employment conditions, and confiscation of identity documents were some of the exploitative practices highlighted. The discussion also underscores that these challenges persist across various industries, and migrant workers face compounded vulnerabilities due to their low-status work, nationality, and gender.

The conversation shifts to the importance of responsible recruitment and the employer pays principle. Neil Wilkins emphasises that excessive recruitment fees often lead to debt bondage, making migrant workers vulnerable to further exploitation. He notes that progress is being made as more companies are adopting policies that prohibit charging recruitment fees to workers. He discusses how this shift is moving from awareness-raising to actual implementation, with organizations like the Responsible Recruitment Register promoting fee-free recruitment.

Anastasia then notes the significance of including migrant worker voices in policy discussions. Given the challenges migrant workers face in accessing formal grievance mechanisms and asserting their rights, it is essential to create gender-responsive mechanisms that address their unique concerns. Neill adds to this suggesting there is triple discrimination faced by women migrant workers due to their low-status work, gender and migrant status;

“All of the usual things that impact women workers – access to jobs, and roles within jobs and promotions, training all of those things, very often on equal pay, and also subject often to gender based harassment, and even gender based violence as well. All of these things make being a migrant women worker, even more difficult, we sometimes call this the triple discrimination, because you’re doing low status work, you’re a migrant, and you’re a woman. So it becomes even harder for women, migrant workers very often to assert their rights in these situations”.

Neill Wilkins, The Business of Risk (Aug 2023)

The episode concludes with insights into promising practices adopted by businesses to address exploitation. These include creating internal human rights working groups, revisiting service agreements with labor recruiters, and cascading responsible recruitment policies to supply chain partners. Anastasia called for widespread regulation including at a local level;

“It’s not only about the national level, it’s also about cascading it down to provincial to local level, we’re often again, resources, capacities and understanding of the laws are quite limited. So definitely, it needs to be sort of horizontally and vertically across the government and also across different ministers that have mandate on migration a bit more broadly, to make sure they are equipped and supported, to be able to implement and enforce relevant policies and laws at the local level.”

 Anastasia Vynnychenko, The Business of Risk (Aug 2023)

They also note the positive contributions of migrant workers to economies through remittances, illustrating the potential benefits of a properly regulated labor market for international migrants. While the episode acknowledged the progress being made, it highlighted the need to scale these efforts to ensure responsible business practices become the norm, thereby fostering sustainable development.

“We have the solutions, we know progress is possible, but we really need to scale them and make sure the implementation is accelerated”.

Rachel Weller, The Business of Risk (Aug 2023)

This episode sheds light on the complex challenges faced by migrant workers and the urgent need for responsible business practices within global supply chains. Through engaging discussions with experts, the episode not only highlights the issues but also offers valuable insights and solutions to address the exploitation of vulnerable workers. It serves as a valuable resource for businesses, policymakers, and individuals committed to making a positive impact on the lives of migrant workers around the world.

Tune into Episode 5 of The Business of Risk to better understand the day-to-day experiences of migrant workers and what can be done to mitigate the risks they face.

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