A Message from GFEMS Leadership

An Important Update on the Future of GFEMS

For the past nine years, all of us at Global Fund to End Modern Slavery (GFEMS) have been committed to advancing the cause. We take immense pride in the strides we have made, channeling fresh resources into the field and amplifying the voices of those directly impacted by modern slavery.

After a thorough assessment of the landscape, we have arrived at the decision to conclude operations at GFEMS by the end of 2024. Established as part of the passage of The End Modern Slavery Initiative Act of 2015 (EMSI), our aim was to spearhead the development and coordination of a comprehensive global strategy. We sought to foster collaboration by substantially increasing resources.

We spearheaded efforts with our key partners to pass this legislation and gain appropriation of annual new funding for the field through the Program to End Modern Slavery (PEMS) authorized under EMSI . This has resulted in $175 million to-date for programming in 27 countries. GFEMS has deployed $52 million of that funding plus $25 million from our other generous donors around the world.

Given the competitive process required to allocate these resources, it has become increasingly apparent that the current framework has not fostered the intended spirit of partnership and collaboration. Consequently, GFEMS has made a strategic decision to step aside while encouraging our community of donors and partners to build a global Movement led by those with lived experience.

As we prepare to wind down operations, in the coming months, we will be celebrating the successes we have achieved with our grantees, partners and donors. We hope our actions are a positive step forward in galvanizing a fresh effort to create a vibrant Movement to end modern slavery.

Thank you for your support and partnership over the years. All of us at GFEMS are proud of what we have accomplished together and are inspired by the community that will carry the work forward. 

Jean Baderschneider
Board Chair, Global Fund to End Modern Slavery

Sophie Otiende
CEO, Global Fund to End Modern Slavery

Pressure to improve treatment of migrant workers has mounted for a decade. What matters now is what comes next.

Calls for Reform, but What Happens After the World Cup?

In the coming weeks, hundreds of thousands of fans from across the globe will converge on Qatar. Donning team colors and filled with fiery anticipation, they will flood the stands of Qatar’s newly-constructed stadiums, ready to cheer their favorite team to World Cup victory. While the chance to glimpse a favorite player will be enough for some, others will shell out close to $35,000 for a hospitality ticket and a more luxurious viewing experience.

Who will be missing from these crowds are thousands of migrant workers who labored over the past decade to prepare Qatar to host such a grand event. Whether by death or deportation, they have been removed from Qatar and the World Cup experience they helped create.

On the eve of the World Cup, accusations of exploitation grow louder, but they are not new

For full quotation and more on migrant workers’ experiences in Qatar, see Migrant-rights.org

Controversy has swelled around Qatar’s World Cup since it was selected to host the epic football tournament way back in 2010. It began with charges of bribery and corruption on how Qatar won the bid in the first place. Since then, much attention has been paid to Qatar’s record on human rights, and especially its treatment of migrant workers.

Qatar has undertaken the largest infrastructure project in World Cup history (by far). Its estimated to have spent more than 200 billion getting ready for the event. Qatar is a small country, both in size and in population, so to meet the labor demand for such a huge project, Qatar has had to rely on hundreds of thousands of migrant workers. Most of these migrants are from Asia and Africa.

Headlines of abuse and exploitation of migrant workers in Qatar are more prominent in recent weeks as the World Cup officially kicks off this month. But the accusations are not new. Indeed, they have been swirling for over a decade, and growing louder each year. Recruiters are accused of charging illegal and often exorbitant recruitment fees. Large construction firms have been charged with nonpayment or underpayment of wages; forcing work in extreme heat; overwork; violating health and safety standards; workplace violence, and even death.

Last year, The Guardian released a report that more than 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka had died in Qatar since it won the World Cup bid 10 years ago. An in-depth analysis of work-related deaths and injuries in Qatar by the International Labour Organization (ILO) reported that 50 workers lost their lives in 2020 and just over 500 were severely injured (most by falls from heights, road traffic accidents, and falling objects on worksites.) Nearly 38,000 suffered mild to moderate injuries.

Labor reforms lack force to really make a difference for migrant workers

The outcry has been enough to pressure a response from Qatar. Since 2017, the government has passed a number of labor reforms. For example, as part of a public effort to dismantle the kafala system (the sponsorship system that ties a migrant worker to his or her employer), workers are able to move jobs or leave the country without a current employer’s consent. They are entitled to a newly-established minimum wage, and an online platform now functions to receive worker complaints.  But, as many workers’ rights orgs and human rights groups argue, these reforms have not done much to improve conditions for migrant workers.

Amnesty International has maintained a countdown of sorts for the last five years to track Qatar’s progress towards ending migrant worker abuse. One year out, Amnesty’s annual “reality check” report concluded “the government has failed to rigorously implement the reforms, in particular by monitoring their enforcement and holding abusers to account… [throwing] into doubt the pledge by key stakeholders that the World Cup would be a game changer for migrant workers in Qatar.” Migrant-Rights.org, a GCC-based advocacy organization working to advance the rights of migrant workers since 2007, continues to share stories of abuse and exploitation as told by migrant workers. Their voices, though stifled by threats of detention or deportation, prove that Qatar still has a long way to go to ensure its workers are treated with dignity and fairness.

What happens after the World Cup?

So then, what happens after a champion is crowned and the crowds go home? Workers will continue to migrate to Qatar, just as they did before the World Cup bid was won. But, almost certainly, the world’s spotlight on Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers will dim.  

Qatar’s response to international pressure may not have brought about the sea change of reform that the world is calling for, but a decade of scrutiny and criticism has forced Qatar to take some critical first steps. Whether these first steps will lead to more meaningful progress is yet to be determined, but continuing to hold Qatar to account can help sway the outcome.

When the tournament ends on December 18, Qatar will find itself at a fork in the road.  Propelled by the momentum of the last 10 years, Qatar can choose to respect migrant voices, hold employers to account and enforce and strengthen protections for migrant workers. It can choose to be a human rights champion for all of the Middle East.

The Global Fund, in partnership with NORC at the University of Chicago, recently conducted a study to measure the prevalence of forced labor among Kenyan migrant workers returning from GCC countries. Findings showed that 1,007 out of 1,020 respondents reported experiencing conditions consistent with forced labor- nearly 99%.The research team concluded that “although employment-based abuses are not uncommon among migrant workers from developing countries, such high rates of forced labor violations are truly rare, if not unprecedented in current prevalence estimation research, and call for massive as well as systemic efforts to address the situation.” Key among the team’s recommendations was the abolishment of the kafala system.

For more recommendations, read the brief.

It’s not just another day at the office.

You Cannot Give from an Empty Cup: How One Anti-Trafficking Organization Centers Mental Health

This post is co-authored with staff from Awareness Against Human Trafficking (HAART).

It’s Thursday at 3 pm.

Like every Thursday afternoon, staff gather in a small conference room in Nairobi’s city center. Their casual chatter fades as the session’s facilitator enters. She smiles before she opens with her familiar greeting, “So, how do you feel?”  

This meeting between staff and therapist has been a routine part of the HAART workweek for the last one year. Though not required, staff from all departments regularly attend. There is no formal structure or predetermined agenda. Rather, the sessions are just a way of checking in with staff, of making sure that they are ok. 

The Global Fund may not be a direct service provider, but our partner Awareness Against Human Trafficking -HAART is. They have been supporting survivors of human trafficking in Kenya for over a decade- from basic needs support to psychosocial counseling to economic empowerment activities.

They work daily with girls, boys, men and women who have been abused or exploited and who are working to overcome that trauma.  It’s rewarding and necessary work, for sure. But it can take a toll, and that toll can be greater than any even realize. As one member of the HAART team recalls, “I did not know I was experiencing secondary trauma, until during one of our debriefing sessions that I noticed I showed symptoms similar to those of post-traumatic stress disorder.” 

While those who work directly with survivors understand the significance of mental health services for survivors, most give far less attention to their own mental wellbeing. 

The daily stresses of the job are commonly overshadowed by the mission. For example, as HAART staff attest, direct service work is filled with uncertainties. “One-minute a survivor is okay, the next they are having suicidal ideation. You never know when you will receive a call for a rescue.” There is comfort in predictability. And uncertainty, especially when it is a constant, can create anxiety. But treating that anxiety is rarely top of mind when a survivor in your program is battling suicidal thoughts. 

That anxiety is often exacerbated by an organization’s own limitations. There is only so much any one can do. HAART works with survivors to understand their needs and then tries to balance that with what the organization can provide.

While HAART provides counseling, training, economic assistance, school fees, health services, and legal aid to survivors, funds for victim assistance are very limited. 

Staff often have to prioritize what kind of assistance to provide despite wanting to do more. And that too can be draining. 

When these are your typical workday challenges- when hearing trafficking experiences recounted and watching the struggles of recovery is “just another day at the office,” mental health support must similarly be part of the job. At HAART, it is. 

It’s quite admirable really to see how much emphasis HAART puts on staff mental wellbeing. Several years ago, after realizing that staff burnout was not tied to case load but to the nature of the work, HAART committed to doing more to make sure its staff were taking care of themselves, mentally and emotionally. They began small- organizing all staff hiking trips, moving office meetings outdoors, practicing yoga together.  And, like all good practitioners, they listened to feedback and adapted to do better.  

Since then, HAART has added two full-time mental health professionals to its team.

These professionals engage staff in group sessions, including weekly departmental-level check-ins, and provide one-on-one support for any staff who want it. There is no limit to how many sessions staff can access. Managers too keep regular meetings with their staff. Even when there’s not much to discuss, the check-ins say a lot. The opportunity to chat with a supervisor not just about work but about life helps staff “feel valued.”

Mental health is not just a focus at the top, though advice to take time off and turn off after work hours has certainly helped foster that culture.  Staff have their own self-care routines; they journal, they swim, they meditate, some even make dance videos. But what’s more, particularly for the protection team, they each have an accountability partner- a person who holds them accountable for making sure self-care remains a priority. 

It’s human life, and that’s a feeling of responsibility that doesn’t end with the work day.

Of course, there are times when even an accountability partner is not enough. And those days when it seems impossible to abide the best-laid guidance for mental wellbeing. As HAART staff are always aware, “it’s human life,” and that’s a feeling of responsibility that doesn’t end with the work day.

However, staff are more aware of the benefits of taking care of self- a consequence of embedding mental health in HAART’s workplace culture.  Morale is higher, productivity is greater. Decision-making is easier. Knowing that the work requires quick response and that those responses impact the lives of survivors, staff report they are able to make decisions with more clarity and confidence. All of that matters, not just for staff but for all those they work with. And that is why HAART continues to prioritize mental health, for as they frequently remind each other, “You cannot give from an empty cup.” 

To learn more about HAART’s work to empower survivors of labor trafficking in Kenya, supported by GFEMS, click here.To learn more about HAART, click here.

Centering victims in justice systems is how we support recovery and not re-traumatization

In Uganda, Women Judges are Leading Efforts to Ensure Justice Systems Heal not Harm

This post is co-authored with Justice Joyce Kavuma and the International Association of Women Judges.

In the first of a series of training modules prepared by the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ) for judicial officers in Uganda, learners are presented a case scenario to demonstrate how courts and judicial processes can re-traumatize a victim.

They are first asked to look at a photograph depicting a young woman standing before a judge. She is the complaining witness in a rape trial. Beside her is the prosecutor and nearly a dozen other men. Most of them are counsel for the defense. One, barely visible in the background, is her father. Another, just a few feet away, is the defendant, the man she accuses of assaulting her. 

Stepping back from the photograph, the trainers provide additional case details. The witness, as the judge informed all parties, waived her right to a forensic examination. The judge nor the witness provide further explanation, but the trainers offer additional context. In the jurisdiction where this case is being adjudicated, a forensic examination requires the accuser to identify the accused in the physical space of a forensics lab. This is to ensure that the accused cannot solicit another person to submit DNA.  In instances where the accusing party lives a distance from the lab, transport is provided. The accused is entitled to the same, meaning accused and accuser may be transported together in the same vehicle, sometimes over a distance as great as 8 hours.

The trainers open the session on victim-centered approaches with this study to show how a case might look different when viewed from a victim’s perspective. Understanding that certain practices can inflict further harm, judges can play a critical role in ensuring victims are not re-traumatized by their experiences in the courtroom. While judges are trained to protect the rights of criminal defendants, a “victim-centered” approach serves as a reminder that victims, too, have rights that judges must protect. Building victim-centered courts is not to tip the scale against neutrality but simply to level it.

Labor Trafficking in Uganda

Africa is the world’s youngest continent; almost 60% of the current population is under the age of 25. As Africa’s population is expected to double by 2050- from 1 billion to nearly 2.4 billion inhabitants-it is apparent that this youthful trend will continue. What is also apparent is that many African economies are struggling to absorb this youth bulge, leading to high youth unemployment rates across the continent. Even among those who do have a job, the vast majority –almost 95%- work in the informal economy. 

In Uganda, where more than 75% of the population is under 30, youth unemployment rates are among the highest in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is especially true in rural areas where most of Uganda’s youth reside, and especially true for girls who are far less likely to enroll and complete their education than boys. The unemployment rate for girls and women is more than double that of boys and men.

Poverty and lack of employment opportunities are a key driver of migration in the region (for more on drivers of migration, read our previous post.) While much migration in Uganda is internal, primarily from rural to urban areas, neighboring countries, including Kenya, continue to attract both skilled and unskilled migrants from Uganda. Uganda is also a destination country for labor migrants from other countries in the region. In recent years, migrants have increasingly begun to look beyond the continent, particularly to the Middle East for employment opportunities. It is estimated that remittances to Uganda’s economy from people working in the Middle East increased from $51.4 million in 2010 to $309.2 million in 2018.

While a boon to the economy and the families that these remittances support, migration is not without risk, especially for the thousands of women employed as domestic workers in Middle Eastern homes. The majority of international trafficking cases identified in Uganda involve young women trafficked into domestic service in the Middle East.

While Uganda continues to implement measures to prevent trafficking, including cracking down on illegal recruitment agencies and investing in awareness raising activities, the justice sector similarly must take action. To ensure victims and survivors of trafficking are not re-traumatized by the justice system, judicial officers must be trained in victim-centered and trauma-informed approaches. This is exactly what IAWJ, with support from the Global Fund, is doing in Uganda.

How Justice Systems Can Re-traumatize Trafficking Survivors

In Uganda, the rights of the accused are outlined and upheld in national law and justice systems. The Ugandan Constitution, for example, provides for the accused’s right to a fair hearing including the right to a speedy and public trial; the right to presumption of innocence until proven guilty; the right to legal counsel; and the right to appear before the court in person. While upholding the rights of the accused is foundational to any meaningful justice system, the rights of the victim must be similarly upheld. This is especially true in trafficking cases where the potential to inflict further trauma runs high.

The 2009 Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act (PTIP Act) and its corresponding regulations (2019) encourage a victim-centered approach and impose responsibilities on law enforcement, prosecutors, judicial officers, and other government officials to protect and support victims. Indeed, it sets out specific measures to ensure victims are protected and supported. These include not penalizing victims for any crimes committed as a direct result of being trafficked; providing victims access to health, social, medical, counseling and psychological services where possible; protecting the privacy and confidentiality of victims; and providing for compensation and restitution of victims. The PTIP Act lays out clear measures for supporting a victim-centered approach. The problem? Very few people know what it is.

Trafficking is a complicated and multi-faceted crime, and the laws designed to prevent, prosecute and punish it are relatively recent innovations.  One of the challenges of combatting this modern form of slavery is that in the absence of stakeholder training and awareness, trafficking victims are likely to come to court not as victims/witnesses, but rather as civil or criminal defendants.  They may be accused of violating immigration laws, charged in labor disputes, or indicted for petty theft (in cases where the defendant is acting under the control of another.) Judicial actors who know and understand the trafficking statute may recognize that this is at base a trafficking situation.  They may then be able to refer the matter for investigation and prosecution.  At a minimum, if judges and judicial sector officials have the knowledge and skills they need, they can avert further injustice to the victim — who may be in court as a criminal defendant. This is why continuing judicial education is so important.

How IAWJ is Strengthening the Justice Sector’s Response

As part of its training, IAWJ seeks to equip justice sector actors to identify possible TIP victims in such cases. They train participants to recognize red flags of human trafficking and ask appropriate screening questions. Justice Kavuma, notes that until and unless judicial officers undergo training, such as that provided by IAWJ, identifying victims will remain a challenge. 

Unless we are linked together, the chain of justice breaks.

— Justice Joyce Kavuma

Training individual justice sector actors in victim-centered approaches can help ensure survivors access justice and support services. But to ensure victim-centered and trauma-informed approaches at every stage of the criminal justice process, they must be embedded at the local and regional levels. IAWJ’s “Train the Trainers” program drew participants from across districts who can then share that knowledge with judicial officers in their own communities.

IAWJ also supports regional dialogues to build and strengthen a coordinated cross-border response. Judges and Magistrates from Kenya and Uganda gather to share information and experiences and collaborate on best practices to address trafficking in persons and support victims and survivors. “We all work together like a chain. Unless we are linked together, the chain of justice breaks.” For Justice Kavuma, the significance of cross-border dialogues and a coordinated victim-centered approach is paramount if trafficking is truly to be eradicated. IAWJ is currently developing a bench book to reinforce this message.

Justice systems play a critical role in combatting trafficking. Rooting them in trauma-informed and victim-centered approaches is how we ensure these systems support recovery and not re-traumatization.

If you are interested in partnering with the Global Fund, please reach out.

The program referenced in this article is funded by a grant from the United States Department of State. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author[s] and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.

The International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ) is a non-profit, non-governmental organization whose members represent all levels of the judiciary worldwide and share a commitment to equal justice for women and the rule of law. Created in 1991, the IAWJ has grown to a membership of over 6000 in 100 countries.

The impact of COVID-19 on apparel workers in Bangladesh has been devastating, but the pandemic did not create worker vulnerabilities.

COVID Revealed Just How Vulnerable Apparel Workers Are. Now What Do We Do About It?

Bangladesh has long been an epicenter for apparel production.  Its garment industry is the second-largest in the world, behind only China. It accounts for about 84% of Bangladesh’s export revenue, and readymade garments account for almost 16% of the country’s GDP. It is home to some 4,000 factories and employs more than 4 million people. 4 out of five of these workers are women

The cost of labor in Bangladesh apparel factories remains low, among the lowest by global standards. The Bangladeshi government raised the minimum wage for garment workers to 8,000 Tk or $95 USD per month in December 2018, the first increase in 5 years. In response, in January 2019, protestors took to the streets. Workers claimed the increase did not reflect the rising costs of living, and questioned how they were to sustain families and households on poverty wages.

Image Courtesy of UN Women

Then, in 2020, a global pandemic hit.

At least $3 billion of orders were cancelled. More than 1 million workers- mostly women- were laid off or furloughed, representing a quarter of the workforce. Overseas apparel sales fell 18%. Recent data shows that fashion owes $16 billion in outstanding payments.

The numbers are stark, but what’s behind the numbers is even starker.  For those working in Bangladesh’s apparel factories, especially those laboring in the informal economy to produce the “made in Bangladesh” tag, these numbers mean a very grim reality.

They mean that millions living on the margins were suddenly without an income. Most had little or no savings. And many were denied the legally mandated severance benefits to provide any cushion. Workers like Mr. Ali, a knit operator for 17 years owed over $4,000 USD in severance pay, hold out hope that “the money will come” but are so desperate to feed their families that they have contemplated suicide.

They mean that there are more children- school age boys and girls, some not yet 10 years old- in Bangladesh’s apparel factories, working to keep their families afloat. 

COVID-19 is not the root cause of vulnerability but it has shown the world just how vulnerable apparel workers are.

They mean that expecting mothers and older workers are being terminated first because employers do not want to or cannot pay the benefits to which they are entitled.

They mean workers are putting up with more abuse in the workplace because they fear losing their jobs and their only source of income. Women workers, in particular, are reporting increased sexual harassment and verbal abuse.

They mean that, in some of the most vulnerable communities, 95% of households have less than a week of food supplies, and barely 3% are receiving any government aid. Mothers who work long days at the factory are undernourished, going without so that their children can eat.

The impact of COVID-19 on apparel workers in Bangladesh has been devastating, but the pandemic did not create worker vulnerabilities.  Those laboring on the factory floor, under exploitative conditions for up to 12 hours a day, do so because they have few other employment options. They are often young, unskilled, and frequently women and migrants. They are vulnerable to forced labor due to poverty, the fragmented, informal nature of textile supply chains, and the lack of enforcement of legal protections for workers. COVID-19 is not the root cause of vulnerability, but it has shown the world just how vulnerable apparel workers are.

Informal Factories Operate in the Shadows, Leaving Workers Vulnerable

Image courtesy of Trades Union Congress

Since the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013, when more than 1,100 people died in a garment factory collapse, labor standards have improved, at least in Bangladesh’s formal factories. Evidence shows better working conditions, more factory inspections and greater accountability. But, for those working in informal factories, the risks of exploitation remain high.

The informal economy is characterized by one central feature: it is unregulated by the institutions of society, in a legal and social environment in which similar activities are regulated.” In other words, there is little government or corporate oversight, meaning factory owners often have limited awareness or knowledge about labor laws; they operate with little consequence for violating laws and little support to improve working conditions.

Some of the worst labor practices are clustered in the informal economy. Informality is associated with lower and less regular incomes, inadequate and unsafe working conditions, extreme job precarity and exclusion from social security schemes, among other factors. A recent study estimates that as many as 3 million Bangladesh workers producing ready-made garments (RMGs) fall outside the scope of any labor monitoring programs.

Worker Survey Gives Voice to Hidden Workers

To give voice to these invisible workers and increase transparency in the RMG sector, we partnered with ELEVATE to deploy a worker survey in Keraniganj and Narayanganj, two of Bangladesh’s key informal apparel production hubs. A relatively low-tech tool, the survey does not require a respondent to be literate or even own a smartphone. Rather, workers anonymously answer a series of multiple-choice questions by pressing a number on their mobile phone’s keypad using voice response technology. During the weeks after responding to the survey, workers then received a series of informational/educational messages informing them of their rights. In instances where child labor or risk of forced labor was identified, referral operators followed-up to link workers to support services such as skills building activities and/or education. While giving voice to a hidden population, this project not only identified exploitation in informal apparel factories, but supported workers to remove from exploitative conditions.

The Results:

The results of the worker survey revealed high rates of child labor –higher than expected and much higher compared to the formal sector. Poverty, exacerbated by the pandemic, pushed most children into factory jobs. Nearly 9 out of 10 working children reported migrating to the cities for work in the informal sector to be able to support their families’ income. Most of these children live in the nearby slums within walking distance of their workplace. Most had never attended school or were forced to drop out. Children are especially vulnerable to exploitation. Anecdotal evidence shows that employers prefer to engage children because they are more easily convinced to work longer hours for less money. Many children are unaware of their rights and thus less likely to protest when those rights are violated.

Bangladesh Labor Foundation School
School for Child Labor facilitated by Bangladesh Labour Foundation (BLF). Photo courtesy of BLF.
LEEDO school for children from apparel factories, Bangladesh
Mobile school for child laborers facilitated by LEEDO. Photo courtesy of ELEVATE.

What to do with these findings? With the Fund’s support, ELEVATE partnered with three local organizations to provide educational and support services to identified victims of child labor. Each of these three organizations- Bangladesh Labour Foundation (BLF), LEEDO, and Community Participation and Development (CPD) – have experience in these two high-risk areas and in implementing educational programs. Each adapted their curriculum and program offerings in response to student needs. 

BLF, for example, amended its traditional curriculum to include Bangla language, mathematics, and English, as these were the courses that young workers most requested. CPD, focused on building technical and vocational skills, enabled students to select a program based on their needs and interest. While some preferred to hone skills relevant to the garment industry, others, especially the younger students, were most interested in learning generic trades to improve their future employability and personal self-development. LEEDO, an organization that runs informal schools for street children, primarily targeted children under the age of 14, complementing their curriculum with recreational activities such as Carom Board, Ludo, and gaming

Of the children who attended these schools, some have left the factory. They have returned to their villages and enrolled in school. Yeasin*, just 9 years old when his father’s injury forced him to quit school and start working, found time to attend one of BLF’s programs in between work shifts. Finding Yeasin eager to exit the factory and continue studying, BLF reached out to his father. Yeasin returned to his family and is now enrolled in the government school in his village.

Other children have moved on to better jobs or better wages. 14-year old Joshin* left school to work in a garment factory after COVID-19 pushed his family into financial crisis. For his labor, he was provided three meals a day, but no wages. After studying English, Bengali, and mathematics as a student in LEEDO’s School under the Sky program- courses that helped him excel in his daily work- Joshin found work in another factory. In his new position, Joshin earns wages that are helping support his family. He expects to earn a promotion soon.

Education is only part of the solution. Reducing vulnerability means changing systems

Educational programs and skills training play an important role in providing children an alternative to working in informal factories, but they are not the solution. Nor is any one program. To ensure children are kept out of factories, we need to address whole systems. This means engaging governments to legislate and enforce labor reform; engaging businesses to change exploitative labor practices; raising awareness to prevent child exploitation; enhancing access to social protection benefits to build financial security; and creating sustainable livelihood options so that mothers, fathers, boys, and girls are not forced into exploitative working conditions.  

The Global Fund supports numerous projects to reduce forced and child labor in Bangladesh’s informal factories. In addition to the worker voice survey and the educational programs that resulted, we support research to identify gaps in existing legislation and we recommend specific actions for policy and law enforcement groups, government officials, and brand representatives to take to end forced labor. We invest in the development of innovative tools to help brands, buyers, and suppliers prevent, detect, and remediate forced labor in their operations. The Fair Capacity Platform, for example, helps businesses plan their production capacity better, reducing the probability that they resort to subcontracting or excessive overtime to meet unrealistic order deadlines. 

The garment industry is a central pillar of the Bangladesh economy, and so are the millions of men, women, and children who sustain it. The outbreak of a global pandemic showed the world just how vulnerable these workers are, especially those laboring in the informal sector. It also reinforced our commitment to reducing that vulnerability. 

If you are interested in partnering with us to end forced and child labor in the apparel sector, please reach out.

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect identities. The legal age of employment in Bangladesh is 14.

Apparel I Bangladesh

Lessons Learned

During follow-up, many children said they couldn’t afford to quit their jobs, or even reduce their workload to participate in the educational programs being offered, despite expressing interest. For some children, engaging in part-time learning could compromise the source of income that their families depend on. Based on findings from the worker voice survey and real-time feedback from children whom the survey engaged, ELEVATE developed the following guidance for governments, donors, civil society, or private sector actors:

  • Efforts to provide education or remediation services to working children must assume that children will not or cannot immediately leave their jobs and should accommodate their work schedules (e.g. by offering part-time courses)
  • Educational and support services should offer income-replacement stipends or allowances and provision of social safety net services to convince children and their families to enroll in the programs, and eventually transition into the mainstream education system.
  • Referral services should target working children as well as their families. Lack of awareness regarding the negative effects of child labor contributes to decisions that put children in factories.
  • Programs aimed at reducing child labor should engage other actors such as factory owners, trade union leaders, and the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishment to eliminate child labor.

Nearly one-fifth of children in Karamoja believe that migrating is the only way to make enough money to survive.

When Risks are High but Need is Great: Migration and Child Trafficking in Karamoja, Uganda

The Global Fund to End Modern Slavery is currently funding the Community Action to End Child Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation project to improve prevention and response to child sex trafficking in Karamoja, Uganda. As part of this project, ICF and the Department of Social Work and Social Administration, Makerere University recently conducted a household survey to measure knowledge, attitudes, and practices around child sex trafficking in the region and to estimate the prevalence of children at risk of and engaged in sex trafficking. The final sample included 986 households (adults) and 830 children aged 12 to 17. For more on research methodology, see our previous post.

**The audio included in this post is a composite narrative; it is based on research findings and does not depict any individual story. It incorporates feedback from the Global Fund’s local partners, Terre des Hommes Netherlands and Dwelling Places, and their project participants. 

Napak District in Karamoja region. Image: “Household Study of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Napak District of Karamoja,” prepared by ICF Macro, Inc.

Karamoja in northeast Uganda is classified as one of the world’s poorest areas. Over sixty percent of its 1.2 million people live in poverty, making Karamoja the least socially and economically developed region in Uganda. In a recent household survey in Napak district, Karamoja, nearly two-thirds of children reported they went to sleep hungry one, two, or three nights in the last week. Indeed, food insecurity remains one of the region’s greatest challenges- one that is intensifying with shifting climate conditions. A study examining changes in the region from 1981 to 2015 found rising temperatures and increasingly erratic rainfall, a trend likely to impose dire consequences in a region where livelihoods –cattle-raising and agriculture- are tied directly to the land. 

These same livelihood-sustaining activities have influenced a culture of migration in the region. Groups have long migrated with their livestock to mobile cattle camps, referred to locally as kraals, during the dry season. However, in more recent years, there has been a change in migration patterns. Increasingly, it is children who are leaving Karamoja. Faced with chronic poverty and few options, Karamoja’s youth are leaving to find better opportunities for themselves and their families in Uganda’s urban centers. Indeed, nearly one-fifth of children recently surveyed in Karamoja believe that migrating is the only way to make enough money to survive.

Though many young people consider migration their best or only option, migration presents its own risks.  Arriving in cities with no money and no family, migrant children are preyed upon by traffickers eager to exploit this vulnerability.  An estimated 90% of children living on the streets or in other vulnerable conditions in Kampala are from Karamoja. Children are exploited in forced begging, domestic work, and commercial sex brothels. Recently, there have been reports of children from Karamoja being sold at markets for 20,000-50,000 UGX ($5.48- $13.70). Among children surveyed in Karamoja, the majority expressed an understanding of the risks associated with migration- many worried they would not make any money, nor have enough food to eat. Others feared they might contract a disease, be beaten, or trafficked for sex. Many children reported that migration brought the risk of being separated from friends and family forever. Yet, despite an awareness of these risks, children from Karamoja continue to migrate. 


Adults and children participating in the survey nearly universally agreed in the importance of education, but most children in Karamoja do not regularly attend school.  Almost 60% of the children surveyed had not completed primary school while a further 38% of child respondents had no formal schooling at all. The overall literacy rate for the region stands at just 25% (compared to a national average of 68%.)  

Evidence shows that girls kept out of school are more likely to bear children at an early age, an outcome with tremendous and long-lasting educational, social, and economic impact. Surveyed boys and girls who reported they had never attended school were significantly more likely to agree that migration is the only way to make enough money to survive. For these children, migration is their only option, no matter the risk.

School is not a priority for many families in the region whose livelihoods are tied to livestock and agriculture. Even as nearly all parents agreed that attending school would enable their children to make more money in the future, parents expect their children will graze cattle and engage in other household-sustaining activities.  Almost half of parents surveyed believe that children should begin participating in elejileij or income-generating activities between the ages of 12 and 15. More than 40% of adults believe that it is good for a child under age 18 to migrate in pursuit of food and money.

While expecting their children to earn for the household, parents also expressed an understanding of the risks that migration carries, including children not making any money, not having enough food to eat, contracting a disease, or being beaten. More than half of adults believe that children who leave home often end up being sexually exploited for commercial gain. Although many adults expect children to generate income, either locally or in another town, those surveyed nearly universally agreed that parents must protect their children from people taking advantage of and hurting them. Given that many parents recognize the risks of migration but still think it is good for children to migrate, it may be that they believe that earning experience is key to their long-term ability to avoid harm. Or it may be that, for many, there seems little alternative. The risk of remaining at home is as great as leaving. In other words, people living in extreme deprivation may look for hope elsewhere even when they are aware of risks.


A child’s risk of exploitation is influenced by other factors. In Karamoja, research shows that the relationship between child and caregiver is significant. Children that are ridiculed by caregivers are far more likely to be involved in child sex trafficking that those who are not.  More than one third of the children surveyed in Karamoja reported being ridiculed or put down by their caregivers. Having a close friend exploited in sex trafficking also indicates a high level of vulnerability- nearly one-fifth of children surveyed in Karamoja have at least one friend who has been exploited in child sex trafficking. Researchers found that keeping secrets from a caregiver is another significant predictor that a child might be involved in sex trafficking. Significantly, responses showed that caregivers underestimate how often their children keep secrets from them. 

Drawing on results of the household survey and children’s and parents’ responses, researchers estimate that one out of every five children in Napak are at high risk of sex trafficking. 


The research conducted in Napak district produced alarming results. But it also produced evidence to help us build more targeted interventions. Read more about our programming to combat child sex trafficking in Napak district here

Research and programs referenced in this article are funded by a grant from the United States Department of State. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author[s] and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.

Protecting Uganda’s children, now and in the future, requires participation and support of the entire community.

“It Takes a Village”: Engaging the Community to End Child Trafficking

In September 2021, our partners in Uganda, Terre des Hommes Netherlands (TdH NL) and Dwelling Places, hosted the first-ever National Dialogue on Child Trafficking. While diplomats, Government leaders, media representatives, and civil society organizations (CSOs) gathered to take stock of Uganda’s collective response to child trafficking, three young girls from Napak District in northeast Uganda joined to raise their voices. 

One of these girls, joining virtually and speaking off camera, described the circumstances that led her to leave Karamoja. She had gone to Nairobi to escape hunger at home and earn enough money to pursue the education her parents could not afford. She was also fleeing an impending marriage, forced to enter a union to which she objected. Demonstrating that they were indeed more than their stories of exploitation and survival, these three young girls took the opportunity to press for action. 

national dialogue on child trafficking in Uganda
Terre des Hommes Netherlands with Dwelling Places hosted the first ever National Dialogue on Child Trafficking in Uganda in September 2021. Photo courtesy of Terre des Hommes Netherlands.

The girls asked the leaders in attendance to bring their friends- children still being exploited in Nairobi- back home to Uganda. They then requested steps be taken to support children from Karamoja, Napak District to access education. Many children dropped out of school because their parents could not afford the fees. The girls pondered why Karamoja saw so many of its children trafficked and why so many migrated from the region only to end up in child labor, begging, or sexual exploitation. 

The State Minister for Disaster Preparedness, the Guest of Honor, offered a response to the girls. She called on the private sector to do its part to end child trafficking and advised civil society organizations to harmonize and coordinate services to ensure all survivors receive the same standard of care and protection. She committed her Ministry to provide food relief for survivors at the Koblin rehabilitation centre in Napak District; and she pledged her advocacy on behalf of education for children in Karamoja. Addressing the girls, she promised the government would do more to end child trafficking.

The following week, in Karamoja, TdH NL facilitated the participation of eight children in the first Annual Stakeholders’ feedback meeting, an opportunity to give feedback on the GFEMS-funded TdH NL project and share their opinions and recommendations. To the Resident District Commissioner, the District Chairperson, the District Education Officer, and other local Government leaders, to the child protection champions, teachers and administrators, and religious and cultural leaders in attendance, the children made several requests. They asked for the continuation of trainings and dialogues on positive parenting to sensitize parents and caregivers on risks of child trafficking. They also requested stricter enforcement of laws against child trafficking, and asked for support and advocacy to change harmful cultural practices and social norms. In addition, they requested more opportunities for their voices to be heard in discussions on how to protect children.

A young girl presents children’s asks to project stakeholders. TdH NL facilitated the participation of eight children in the first Annual Stakeholders’ feedback meeting in September 2021.

But the children were not done. In one last urgent appeal, they requested that the Government reopen schools immediately. For children in the region, these young advocates explained, schools play a critical role in preventing child trafficking and sexual exploitation. Recognizing the significance of schools in protecting children, the District Education Officer committed to working with local groups to provide access to education until the nation’s schools re-open. Amongst an audience of local officials and decision-makers, these children made their voices heard.

TdH NL and Dwelling Places (TdH NL’s implementing partner) have been working to prevent child sex trafficking in the Napak district of Karamoja and other hot spots in Eastern Uganda since 2014. It is from this experience that TdH NL and Dwelling Places have learned the value and necessity of listening to children most affected by the issue and supporting them to be agents of change in their communities. Indeed, engaging children and youth to combat sexual exploitation and abuse has been and remains a defining feature of TdH NL’s programming, and it may be the most critical. It is part of a comprehensive strategy to protect Karamoja’s children, a strategy that calls the entire community to action to end child trafficking.

A Community at Risk

Karamoja is a young population. The average age is just 15 years old.  It is also a growing population. On average, a woman in Karamoja will give birth to eight children, much higher than a national average of five children and soaring above Kampala’s average of three children.  With a poverty rate among the highest in the world and a literacy rate of just 25%, Karamoja’s children confront various challenges that put them at increased risk of exploitation. 

To reduce these vulnerabilities, TdH NL and Dwelling Places, with funding from the Global Fund, are creating referral, response, and reporting mechanisms to build a “protective shield” for 2,000 children in Karamoja.  They are engaging children, parents, teachers, survivors, community leaders, and law enforcement to raise awareness of child trafficking risks, enhance prevention and monitoring, and shift harmful cultural norms. Protecting Karamoja’s children, now and in the future, requires participation and support of the entire community. This is what our partners are working to do.

Building Community Awareness

In the communities of Karamoja, this begins with raising awareness. Community dialogues are at the core of TdH NL’s awareness-raising activities. These are an opportunity for community members to learn more about what makes children susceptible to trafficking or exploitation and what families and the community can do to better protect their children. Building from the findings in a recent Global Fund commissioned study on child sex trafficking, parents are made aware of behaviors and interactions that can negatively affect their children and even contribute to increasing vulnerabilities to trafficking or exploitation. For example, findings show that children who are ridiculed by caregivers are far more likely to be involved in child sex trafficking than those who are not.  Among children surveyed in Karamoja, more than one third reported being ridiculed or put down by their caregivers. (See our previous post for more research findings.) For many participants, TdH NL reported, the training was a real “eye-opener”, revealing links between parent-child relationships and trafficking risks. When TdH NL introduced positive parenting messaging, parents were receptive.  They pledged to change their behavior and relation to their children, and committed to sharing positive parenting messaging with others in their communities.   

Building awareness means educating parents and community members on risk factors for child trafficking and how to reduce those risks. But it also means changing cultural norms that harm children. Girls in particular experience high rates of gender-based violence, fueled by its widespread cultural acceptance in the region. Early marriage or forced marriage is common.  Married young, it is more likely a girl will not earn an education, experience poor health, have more children over her lifetime, and earn less in adulthood. In other words, she becomes more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

Boys too suffer the consequences of entrenched gender norms. Traditional perceptions of male masculinity contribute to a culture of repression, silence, and continued exploitation for young boys who fall victim to child trafficking. Findings from a recent Global Fund commissioned study on child trafficking indicate that boys are just as likely to be trafficking victims as girls, but this is a largely unseen and unreported problem. Reluctant to report, boys are unlikely to receive the support they need to recover. Community dialogues explain the harm that such culturally-accepted practices can inflict and encourage participants to rethink practices and customs that put children at risk.  Local religious and cultural leaders- community members who hold incredible sway and garner trust in Karamojong villages- are encouraged to lead change.

Significantly, community dialogues are not a one-way conversation.  Participants share their experiences and concerns, feedback that is critical to building programs that work best for Karamojong communities. While explaining the challenges that families and children in Karamoja confront, including food insecurity and hunger, raids, unemployment, high dropout rates and low enrollment in schools, forced marriage, and peer pressure, community members also offer insight on what can be done to make their children less vulnerable.  In multiple dialogues, for example, participants expressed that children needed more opportunities for education or vocational training. The indefinite closure of schools in response to the pandemic has made children even more vulnerable, a trend that will certainly outlast the outbreak as 30 percent of Ugandan learners are likely never to return to school

Turning Awareness into Action

While raising awareness of the risks and signs of child trafficking or exploitation is a critical first step in protecting a community’s children, it is not enough. Community members must know how to respond. Information on where and how to report child trafficking is shared during community dialogues, but TdH NL also conducts more targeted outreach. They train teachers and administrators throughout Napak district to monitor for exploitation- for example, to pay attention to attendance and behavior patterns and to take action against it. Most critically, students and youth are engaged to play an active role in prevention, monitoring, and response. 

As members of Community Child Rights Clubs (CCRCs), peer support groups facilitated by TdH NL, young Karamojongs learn about their rights and actions that violate them; they are taught about reporting and referring mechanisms; and they are encouraged to share this knowledge with other young people in their communities. Adults, including teachers, serve as club patrons and Child Protection Champions or child advocates supporting the CCRCs. To date, this project has supported the establishment of 35 CCRCs, engaging more than 680 children and youth. 

Children, parents, teachers, survivors, village leaders, government officials- the entire community plays a role in preventing child trafficking. With programs informed by on-the-ground research, our partners are engaging the community to protect Karamoja’s children, and they are changing systems to ensure freedom and opportunity for all children.

To learn more about the Global Fund and how you can get involved, click here.

Programs referenced in this article are funded by a grant from the United States Department of State. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author[s] and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.

For many migrants, returning home can bring new trauma.

The Long Return: Supporting Reintegration for Returning Migrants in Bangladesh

Farishta* was sick and bleeding when she arrived at the recruitment agency. She had been dropped there only after her illness had become severe enough that her employers worried she might not survive. Concerned about their own futures, the couple that had exploited and abused Farishta as a domestic worker in their home for the last six months finally returned her to the same recruitment agency in Saudi Arabia that had placed her. But, after a day, the agency delivered Farishta to the police. Claiming she was in the country illegally, the police held Farishta for another eight days, and for another eight days, she was denied medical attention. Farishta was told she could go home if she could quickly arrange the cost of a ticket back to Bangladesh. From the police station, Farishta contacted her husband who was able to borrow BDT 40,000 (USD $471) to bring Farishta home. It seemed her harrowing experience was coming to an end.

However, when Farishta returned to Bangladesh her struggle continued. She was shunned by her family, her oldest son refusing to call her mother. While coping with the emotional trauma of rejection, Farishta’s physical health continued to deteriorate. Still bleeding and growing weaker every day, Farishta borrowed money to see a gynecologist who advised surgery and medication. Farishta could afford neither. Though she had escaped abuse and exploitation at the hands of her overseas employer, the trauma Farishta experienced and continued to endure after returning home was overwhelming. She had thoughts of taking her own life.

Struggling to reintegrate into her family and community, Farishta was introduced to Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program (OKUP), a community-based migrant workers’ organization in Bangladesh.

With OKUP’s support, Farishta began to heal physically and mentally.

She received needed medical treatment and psycho-social counseling. At the same time, OKUP provided counseling to Farishta’s family to help them understand her trauma and to engage them in supporting Farishta’s recovery. Farishta’s relationship with her family has improved and she is reconnecting with her eldest son.

Family support was critical for Farishta’s recovery and reintegration, but Farishta also needed a sustainable livelihood for herself and her family. After excelling in OKUP’s life skills training course, she was referred to a partner organization, Caritas Bangladesh, for assistance to start a small business. Farishta is now raising ducks and chickens, selling eggs to earn money for her family. She has plans to acquire more animals and to remain at home in Bangladesh.

Though her migration experience was one of pain and exploitation, Farishta found a way forward with the support of OKUP and others working to strengthen reintegration support for returning migrants. While providing necessary psychosocial and livelihood support to survivors like Farishta, OKUP is working with a consortium of GFEMS-funded partners to raise community awareness of the challenges returnees face and to advocate improvements in government services and response. Together, we are supporting returnees to sustainably reintegrate and reforming systems to better serve survivors and vulnerable migrants. Farishta, while still managing her own trauma, has begun working with other returnees in her community to help them recover and thrive.

The Challenges of Return

Remittances are the lifeblood of millions of families in Bangladesh. In 2019, remittances sent via formal channels topped $18.3 billion USD- or 6 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. For families of overseas workers, this money accounts for 85 percent of daily expenditures; sixty percent of these families are totally dependent on remittances for their daily expenses. Multiple family members often rely on the wages of a single migrant worker, creating pressure on migrant workers to “succeed” abroad.

The expectation that migration will improve a family’s financial situation often shapes a migrant’s return experience. Those who return with no money or savings are commonly viewed as “failed” migrants and are ostracized by communities and even families. For the women and men who are deceived, exploited, and abused as overseas workers, rejection at home only adds to the trauma and isolation experienced abroad. Women especially are shunned by communities and family members for sexual abuse they endured, either real or perceived. According to a recent report by the Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies, 52% of more than 300 female returnees interviewed felt there was “a change of social attitude” towards them after their return. Many reported that they had become common targets for gossip; that they experienced an increase in judgmental attitudes towards them upon return; and that they were regularly subjected to derogatory remarks from community members. Significantly, none of the interviewees made any formal complaints to any authority regarding their treatment. The outbreak of a global pandemic in early 2020 only increased the social stigma surrounding returnees as they were now branded carriers of COVID-19. Without improved systems and services to provide returning migrants needed psychosocial and livelihoods support, many will again turn abroad and to the same unsafe channels of migration.

Afsari’s Story

Confronting extreme financial hardship at home, Afsari made the decision to seek work abroad after hearing she could earn a decent wage. Afsari endured 15 months of exploitation and abuse before she was able to earn enough to pay off the debt of BDT 160,000 (approximately $1,890 USD) owed to a labor recruiter. Afsari returned home, but without the wages she had been promised and now under the weight of new trauma. She was introduced to Caritas where she completed tailoring training, began teaching tailoring classes, and received seed money to begin her own tailoring business. Afsari now earns enough to cover her family’s daily needs, including schooling for her daughter, and is saving for her future.

Supporting Sustainable Reintegration

According to IOM, “reintegration can be considered sustainable when returnees have reached levels of economic self-sufficiency, social stability within their communities, and psychosocial well-being that allow them to cope with (re)migration drivers.” When sustainable reintegration is achieved, future decisions about migration become a matter of choice, rather than necessity. This is what we are working to achieve with our partners in Bangladesh. Supported by funding from the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery, Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) is leading a project with OKUP and Caritas Bangladesh to provide short- and long-term support for survivors and vulnerable migrants and advocate for strengthened government response and reintegration programs.

Working together, CAFOD, OKUP, and Caritas Bangladesh are able to provide holistic services to returnees and vulnerable migrants, ensuring migrants can access needed support from the moment they return to that when they no longer need it. With an understanding that migrants have different migration experiences and different needs upon return, partners in the consortium leverage their unique strengths and networks to provide each returnee tailored yet comprehensive support.

Recovery and Reintegration Begins the Moment a Migrant Returns

OKUP provides short-term emergency service for returnees, including airport pick up and shelter services. In the worst of scenarios, OKUP coordinate airport transfers of bodies to the families of the migrant worker; they also support families to apply to the government to pay for the funeral costs. In addition, OKUP aids with medical referrals and applications for government health grants that can pay a migrant’s medical costs. They provide psychosocial counseling to returnees and their families, and, in instances of severe trauma, OKUP extends long-term counseling support.

Beyond emergency support, OKUP have established community-led groups of returnee migrant workers known as migrant forums and facilitates their regular meetings to provide information to returnees and vulnerable migrants on relevant matters including how to access loans and other financial support. During one recent meeting, more than 200 migrants were supported to access government benefits- a vital lifeline as the pandemic continues to shake financial security.

Sustainable Reintegration Must Engage the Community

OKUP also engages the community to support reintegration efforts. Through outreach and awareness-raising activities, OKUP is helping communities understand the unique challenges migrants confront and working to reduce the social stigma that attaches to them upon return. With more than a decade of experience supporting returnees and vulnerable migrants, OKUP understands the significance of community engagement, and employs traditional and non-traditional methods, including theatrical performance, to build these networks of support. For example, in an OKUP-sponsored play about a woman’s migration journey and her abuse overseas, the focus is on her return and the importance of community support. These efforts are reaching thousands; in just one quarter, OKUP’s outreach activities engaged over 17,000 individuals across 8 high-migration districts.

Sustainable Reintegration Must Include Livelihoods Support

Building on OKUP’s sustainable reintegration efforts, Caritas Bangladesh provides skills and entrepreneurship training to prepare survivors and vulnerable migrants for sustainable employment. Participants are able to self-select their economic reintegration activities, selecting a business track that draws on their own skills and interests. With agency to determine their own futures, survivors and returnee migrants can choose employment opportunities that meet their own needs, increasing the likelihood of success and sustainability.
To date, Caritas Bangladesh has supported over 600 individuals to start their own small businesses. After completing entrepreneurship training and courses covering subjects such as business principles, trade licensing, and accounting, graduates are supported to develop small business plans before Caritas Bangladesh transfers seed money to help them push these ideas forward. Caritas Bangladesh currently supports survivors and vulnerable migrants across nearly 50 different vocations, from animal husbandry to tailoring to auto work.

It is admirable to see the Government of Bangladesh is committed to improving reintegration services for migrant workers.

— Richard Sloman, CAFOD

Sustainable Reintegration Must be Supported by Government

While supporting individual returnees to reintegrate, the consortium is also advocating local and state government to strengthen referral systems. OKUP is coordinating with the Wage Earners’ Welfare Board to strengthen referral services from the airport to ensure returnees in need of support are identified and referred for services. Though COVID has imposed new challenges, diverting government resources and capacity, progress is being made. OKUP reports that new cases are starting to be referred. Building on these advocacy efforts, CAFOD, in collaboration with a team of research consultants, recently published a report identifying gaps in the current referral system. The report includes several recommendations and is being used as an advocacy tool for the government to strengthen referral systems. The consortium remains steadfast in its advocacy efforts and continues to press relevant officials to take action. In 2022, the consortium will be hosting a series of referral guideline workshops with government Ministry officials to discuss findings from the referral research.

“It is admirable to see the Government of Bangladesh is committed to improving reintegration services for migrant workers. These workshops provide an excellent opportunity to develop a strong, holistic and inclusive referral mechanism which will dramatically improve the support returnee migrants, particularly survivors of abuse and exploitation, receive when they return to Bangladesh.”
Richard Sloman (CAFOD)

While CAFOD, OKUP, and Caritas Bangladesh are providing critical support to vulnerable individuals and communities, their partnership is what is transforming systems and creating sustainable change. Sharing knowledge, building partner capacity, and providing comprehensive and holistic care, they are supporting returnees through recovery and reintegration. Working together, they are changing the systems that enable modern slavery to thrive.

*Some names in this blog have been changed to protect identities.

In supporting young people to develop professional and personal skills and practical experience, the Alliance is empowering young people with greater control over their futures.

Building Skills and a Better Future: How the Hospitality Sector Can Support Survivors to Achieve Sustainable Employment

“Towering above Mumbai’s upscale commercial hub, Four Seasons combines chic modern style with an intimate, boutique atmosphere and panoramic sea views. Let our expert team connect you with local culture, shopping and entertainment. At day’s end, return to our rooftop AER – Bar and Lounge for sunset cocktails and mingling with Mumbai’s elite.”

 The website for the Four Seasons Hotel in Mumbai sells an experience of luxury and indulgence, one that appeals to many travellers, both foreign and domestic. But it is not one that youth often imagine themselves a part of, especially youth from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Though many young people may not envision their futures in a five-star hotel, Sustainable Hospitality Alliance (the Alliance) understands the tremendous opportunity that the hospitality industry affords. Unlike many other sectors, the bar for entry into the hospitality sector is not set at education or even job experience. Rather, there is a unique appreciation for self-confidence, on-the-job training and practical skills development that opens the hospitality industry to youth of any background. The Alliance works with hotel members and philanthropic, government, nonprofit, and private sector partners across the globe to connect young people with these opportunities. In helping youth develop skills to advance in the hospitality sector or related professions, the Alliance is reducing youth vulnerability to trafficking and exploitation and supporting young people to achieve financial security and a better future.

In 2020, 1 in 5 youth were not in employment, education or training (NEET). This number continues to rise as the world struggles under the weight of a global pandemic. In many cases, youth were the first let go during economic shutdowns- 1 in 6 are estimated to have lost their jobs since the outbreak began. While one month of being unemployed at age 18-20 can cause a permanent income loss of 2% in the future, poverty, malnutrition and financial insecurity are the consequences youth experience more immediately. Confronting increasingly desperate circumstances, young people are more susceptible to exploitation, abuse, and modern slavery. 

Despite the heavy blow that COVID-related travel restrictions and national lockdowns dealt to the industry, hospitality can play a critical role in recovery. It remains an important driver of economic growth and job opportunities, and provides young people the chance to develop skills and experience to ensure sustainable employment, within the industry and beyond. Though GFEMS partnership with the Alliance began in 2018, the devastating effects of COVID have highlighted the significance of the intervention. In supporting young people to develop professional and personal skills and practical experience, the Alliance is building youth resilience and empowering young people with greater control over their futures.

A Partnership to Reduce Youth Vulnerabilities and Support Young Survivors

The Alliance initiated its youth employment program in 2004 to support at-risk youth (ages 18-24), including those from impoverished communities or low-income families, those living with disabilities, survivors of human trafficking, and refugees, to achieve sustainable employment. Viewing hospitality as a solution to the problem of youth unemployment, the Alliance has forged partnerships with over 200 hotels in four countries since it began 15 years ago. To date, over 6,000 young people have graduated from the Alliance’s youth employment program.

GFEMS partnered with the Alliance as part of its anti-trafficking efforts in Vietnam and Maharashtra, India, two regions with high prevalence of sex trafficking. Through this partnership, the Alliance is directly engaging survivors and at-risk individuals in its employment program, and supporting them to develop skills and experience to make them less vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation. While this project is making a difference in the lives of the youth it engages, it is also informing the development of a model to be scaled and replicated across countries and industries.

A Program to Build Survivor Skills and Confidence

The Alliance’s youth employment program begins and ends at partnership. To be successful and sustainable, it needs both hotels to conduct practical training and community organizations to connect young people with the opportunity. To build these partnerships, the Alliance first conducts workshops in the region of operation to introduce representatives of hotels and local nonprofits to the program and share best practices for working with survivors.  Participating nonprofit partners, including anti-trafficking organizations and youth shelters, commit to mobilizing survivors and at-risk youth for the program. (Some even travelling to harder-to-reach but high prevalence areas to engage vulnerable youth.) Hotels that join the program agree to provide on-site skills training or apprenticeships for youth who complete initial training.

Once partnerships are established, youth are enrolled and begin one month of “pre-training” focused on soft skills development. Consisting of three modules- Life Skills, English for Hospitality, and Introduction to Hospitality- the employment program curriculum develops core employability skills that are relevant to the hospitality sector.  In honing digital skills, building financial literacy, and learning to effectively communicate, students are equipped with skills that transfer to virtually any industry. The program also strengthens confidence and job-readiness, soft skills to set young people on a successful career path.

When core training is completed, students are placed for practical skills training, generally with local hotels. On-site training typically lasts two months. After successful completion, graduates are supported to find employment in the hospitality sector or related fields.

“The training has made me employable and capable to be part of the housekeeping team in a hotel. I am learning how to provide service to guests. This training has prepared me to be confident and speak up. I feel self-motivated, excited, and willing to learn.”


— Ragini Khan*, participant in the programme, Mumbai (name changed to protect identity)

Lessons to Build Stronger Programs and Scalable Solutions

Programs are rarely implemented without challenges. Learning from these challenges and adapting to meet them is how we can build effective and sustainable strategies to end trafficking and modern slavery. During the second year of program implementation, circumstances on the ground supported the decision to end the youth employment program in Vietnam.  As many of the students enrolled in the Hanoi program came from rural provinces, a change in government policy that shifted support for trafficking survivors to their regions of origin deterred many from traveling to Hanoi. With the decentralization of government support, most survivors chose to remain near family and community networks. Indeed, several of the Alliance’s nonprofit partners reported that their shelters in Hanoi no longer housed any survivors.

Adding to this challenge was an important learning uncovered during the course of program implementation. While encouraging that over sixty per cent of Hanoi graduates did in fact secure full-time employment in the hospitality sector, almost half of those who enrolled in the program did not graduate. The Alliance worked with its local nonprofit partners to understand why students were dropping out of the program at such a high rate. The key finding was that location mattered. Students from rural provinces had trouble adapting in Hanoi. Separated from family and community, they lacked networks of support to fully engage with the program.

Though disheartening, this learning, reinforced by findings from other GFEMS-funded projects in Vietnam, demonstrates the significance of locally-accessible programming and tailoring programs to match survivor needs. The Alliance and GFEMS shifted remaining funding to scale up programming in India, but the Hanoi program should not be counted a loss. From this knowledge, the Alliance and GFEMS are building stronger programs, programs that take account of local circumstances and survivor needs, programs that can be scaled-up effectively within the hotel industry and replicated across sectors.

Challenges to program implementation were not confined to Hanoi. Like the rest of the world, the Alliance experienced the disruptions wrought by a global health crisis and national lockdowns.  The hospitality industry was especially hard hit. Many hotels and restaurants were forced to shutter their doors and others froze new hiring, making new placements all but impossible. The Alliance also had to suspend in-person soft skills trainings indefinitely.

While no one could have predicted a global pandemic, the Alliance worked quickly to mitigate its impact on the project and more importantly, on the young people it supported. Almost immediately, the Alliance began outreach to students engaged in the employment program. These young people were provided mental health and professional counselling through one-on-one calls with trained staff from Alliance’s local partner, Kherwadi.

Moreover, the Alliance very quickly transitioned its soft-skills training to an online format to ensure students could continue learning even during the chaos and uncertainty of COVID.  Further adapting to COVID challenges, the Alliance collaborated with GFEMS to find new practical skills training opportunities. Identifying industries where students’ soft skills readily transferred and where students could still gain relevant experience, the Alliance began offering placements in healthcare, food & beverage, housekeeping, and customer service. Though some students opted to defer placement until positions could be secured in the hospitality sector, many others readily engaged with these opportunities. Despite the disruptions caused by COVID, 68% of students who entered the Mumbai program in summer 2020 graduated by spring 2021. 74% had secured employment before leaving the program.

The Alliance’s youth employment program in Mumbai continues to thrive. The success of the program inspired two additional nonprofit organizations to partner with the Alliance last quarter to mobilize more students. Drop-out rates have steadily declined and students are increasingly asserting more agency in decisions about their futures. Placements may be taking a bit longer now, but it is no longer because of COVID. With enhanced knowledge and confidence, students are more aware of their options and waiting for the right employment opportunity.

 “The training program has helped me to be a courageous and independent individual. I have a strong feeling that the things that I have learned in this training will help me to work towards building my career. I wish to work and make it to a higher position in a top-tiered hotel.” 

— Akhil, participant, Mumbai


In June, the Alliance publicly launched the curriculum that lies at the heart of its youth employment program. The core employability curriculum, developed with inputs from industry experts and education specialists, is designed to empower youth with relevant and transferable job skills. It is a free resource, for use by community and training organizations around the world. In supporting young people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to build skills and confidence, the Alliance is opening sustainable employment pathways, and reducing vulnerability to abuse and exploitation. 

Programs referenced in this article are funded by a grant from the United States Department of State. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author[s] and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.

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