In a complex and exploitative industry, micro-contractors can play a critical role to protect workers.

Tackling Labor Exploitation in the Construction Sector in India

India’s construction industry is complex, multi-tiered, and marked by a high degree of informality. While developers and large contracting companies exist at the top tier, it is most often “micro-contractors,” or employers of small teams of construction workers (less than 50 workers), who are the first point of contact for migrant workers. Click below to learn more about micro-contractors and the critical role they can play to end modern slavery in India’s construction industry.

GFEMS recently commissioned research to better understand the nature of the labor supply chain in India’s construction sector and the relationships between its key actors. Finding that micro-contractors are a critical entry point for interventions to reduce exploitation and protect workers, this brief concludes with recommendations to improve working conditions and reduce vulnerabilities for migrant workers in India’s construction industry, particularly through more support for micro-contractors.

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.

Understanding what works- and what doesn’t- is how we make progress in ending modern slavery.

Lessons Learned from Inaugural Programs

In 2018, the Global Fund launched its first projects, with the support of the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. This inaugural portfolio focused on sex trafficking in India, the Philippines, and Vietnam, forced labor in India’s construction industry, and exploitation and abuse of overseas migrant workers in the Philippines and Vietnam.

This report is a reflection on key lessons the Global Fund learned over four years of research, programming, adaptation, and partnership. Looking back on what these projects achieved and where they fell short, taking the time to examine learnings, both anticipated and unanticipated – these are necessary steps to make real and sustainable progress towards ending modern slavery.

Domestic workers are at risk of forced labor, but evidence shows ethical recruitment can lessen it.

Overseas Filipino Worker Voices: A Study of Forced Labor Among Migrant Workers from the Philippines

Overseas labor migration has been a feature of the Filipino economy for over a century. Over the last thirty years, overseas labor migration has become an increasingly important part of the country’s economy, reducing unemployment and strengthening US dollar reserves. However, many Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) —particularly those employed as domestic workers or in occupations viewed as “low-skilled”—are often subject to unethical recruitment mechanisms, deceptive hiring practices, and forced labor conditions after arriving in the receiving country. This situation has been exacerbated by the profound economic, public health, and other impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, which have caused uncertainty, skyrocketing unemployment, and large-scale repatriation among migrant workers globally.

This study sought to determine the pathways leading to forced labor/trafficking in persons (TIP) and the distribution of forced labor indicators among samples of OFWs in several destination countries and industries. In concert with GFEMS, the University of Philippines Centre International de Formation des Autorités et Leaders (CIFAL), and grantee organizations including the Fair Employment Foundation (FEF), Two Six Technologies (TST) implemented this multi-cohort survey effort and examined the occurrence, distribution and dimensions of labor exploitation among study participants in three distinct study cohorts.

Findings show that overall, approximately 26.4% of all study participants reported experiencing Tier 2* or worse forced labor conditions, and that domestic work—a female-dominated profession among OFWs—is associated with an even higher rate of forced labor with 42.9% of domestic workers experiencing conditions meeting at least Tier 2 conditions. Among other recommendations included in the report, researchers call for enhancements to pre-departure training to include content that better prepares workers for the risks they may face abroad.

For more findings and recommendations, read the full report.

*For the analysis, forced labor was categorized by levels of severity with Tier 1A being most severe and including threats of violence to self or family, restricted movement, and debt bondage.  Tier 1 included both threats and restricted movement.  Tier 2 does not include threats of violence or restricted movement but may include working more hours than agreed upon, working on rest days, and debt bondage.

This study was funded by a grant from the United States Department of State through the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery (GFEMS). The opinions, findings, and conclusions stated herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Department of State or GFEMS.

Evidence shows that placement through ethical recruitment channels has a protective effect.

GFEMS Research and Programming: Strengthening Systems for Filipino Migration

Migrant workers are critical contributors to the global economy, and the Philippines is a leading country of origin for migrant labor. Each year, over 2 million Filipinos work overseas – nearly one million of whom are hired into so-called “elementary occupations”, including construction, transportation, and domestic work. These lower-skilled migrant workers, and female domestic workers in particular, are highly vulnerable to exploitation – often subject to unethical recruitment mechanisms, deceptive hiring practices, and forced labor conditions after arriving in the receiving country.

From 2018 to 2022, GFEMS supported research and programming, led by our implementing partners Two Six Technologies (TST), Blas F. Ople Policy Center (Ople Center), International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the Fair Employment Foundation (FEF), to better understand and address issues across the labor migration system.

Study findings indicate that Filipino migrant workers face considerable risks to their freedom, and economic and
personal safety.

Findings from this research and programming help to (1) understand and address vulnerabilities for Filipino domestic workers; (2) equip government and other stakeholders to investigate and tackle labor abuses; and (3) support a shift towards ethical recruitment practices in the sector.

For more findings and recommendations, download the briefing.

This research was funded by a grant from the US Department of State. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.

GFEMS secures two new corporate partners, expands to Malaysia and Indonesia

The Global Fund to End Modern Slavery Announces New Program to Support Migrant Workers in Malaysia, Indonesia

The Global Fund to End Modern Slavery (GFEMS) is excited to announce a new partnership with a corporate foundation to create safer migration pathways for migrant workers in Malaysia and Indonesia. The foundation’s $1.2 million commitment will empower more workers with tools and knowledge to migrate safely and will engage businesses to promote ethical recruitment and fair labor practices.

An estimated 200,000 workers in Malaysia face conditions of exploitation and forced labor. As a result of these challenges, Malaysia recently downgraded to the lowest ranking in the U.S. Department of State 2021 Trafficking In Persons report. 

The Fund’s new program will expand support for migrant workers to Malaysia, reaching over one thousand migrants, to empower workers, support safe migration, and expand opportunities for decent work. With partners ELEVATE, Diginex, and Winrock, GFEMS will launch SafeStep, a best-in-class mobile app providing resources and information for migrant workers, in Malaysia. This program builds on an initial $1.3 million, two-year investment during which GFEMS and ELEVATE developed and piloted SafeStep with workers migrating from Bangladesh to the Gulf Cooperation Council countries. This pilot revealed the potential for safer migration when migrants are equipped with reliable and accessible information. This additional investment will enable SafeStep to expand to Malaysia, supporting user growth in Bangladesh and expanding functionality for employers. This effort will also be boosted by a $450,000 investment by The Walt Disney Company supporting development of a grievance mechanism for workers in Malaysia. 

The program will also support the growth of Pinkcollar, an ethical recruitment startup in Malaysia that places overseas workers in safe jobs without charging any fees. With this support, Pinkcollar will expand their operations to Indonesia, supporting more migrants to find safe employment and deepening the business case for the ethical recruitment models needed to disrupt forced labor. To tell the story of how these efforts can improve the migration journey for workers across Malaysia, Bangladesh, and Indonesia, GFEMS will partner with DAWNING to conduct a longitudinal study of Pinkcollar and SafeStep’s work and produce a compelling multimedia report.

“The Fund is proud to expand this innovative program that empowers migrant workers to make informed decisions, as well as contribute to ethical and sustainable businesses. This investment will allow us to scale up promising interventions and launch in new places. Ultimately, we aim to create breakthroughs by changing exploitative industry standards.”

— Helen Taylor, Chief Operating Officer, The Global Fund to End Modern Slavery

To learn more about our ethical recruitment work, please visit our portfolio. Click here to learn more about our partners. Any inquiries regarding this announcement may be sent to media@gfems.org.

Migrants worked an average of 99 hours per week, and 30% of migrants worked more than 120 hours per week on average.

Prevalence Estimate: Forced Labor among Ugandan Workers in the Gulf Cooperation Council

Our findings suggest that the vast majority of Ugandan migrants in the Middle East experience conditions consistent with human trafficking. At the same time, promoting more ethical recruitment practices may help to address this issue.

This study was carried out by ICF and the Department of Social Work and Social Administration, Makerere University, who conducted a respondent-driven sampling (RDS) study in Uganda. The RDS study targeted migrant workers who currently work in the Middle East or who have worked in the Middle East in the past 3 years to explore the prevalence and characteristics of human trafficking experienced during their recruitment and employment.

To our knowledge, this study is the first to explore the characteristics of working and living conditions among Ugandans working in the Middle East using a representative sample, as well as the first to offer a prevalence estimate of human trafficking for Ugandans in the Middle East.

The purpose of this study is to inform Global Fund to End Modern Slavery-funded programming on more effective methods to reduce the risk of human trafficking and support survivors of human trafficking in Uganda.

The study found that the majority (89%) of migrants reported experiences consistent with human trafficking and more than one-fourth (27%) of migrants experienced severe exploitation, defined as threats of or actual violence or psychological abuse. However, the study also found that the prevalence of human trafficking and severe exploitation were lower among migrants who experienced fewer instances of unethical recruitment. In fact, regression analysis indicates that with each additional unethical recruitment practice experienced, the odds of both human trafficking and severe exploitation nearly triple. This suggests that efforts to promote more ethical recruitment processes may help to reduce the prevalence of trafficking among Ugandan migrants in the Middle East. 

For key findings and recommendations, download the briefing. For more, download the full report.

Our findings showed 99% of respondents encountered at least one type of labor abuse.

Prevalence Estimate: Forced Labor Among Kenyan Workers in the Gulf Cooperation Council

In essence, practically everyone heading to the GCC as a migrant worker from Kenya would become a victim of forced labor at some point.

GFEMS has launched a series of projects to combat forced labor among Kenyan migrant workers. As a part of this effort, GFEMS engaged NORC to measure the prevalence of forced labor among recently returned Kenyan migrant workers from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries (e.g., Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia).

There were extensive forced labor violations among surveyed respondents. We found that 98.73% of the sample, or 1,007 out of the total 1,020 respondents, reported having experienced at least one of the four categories of workplace labor abuses, or were unable to exit an abusive employment situation. We estimated the rate of forced labor among the Kenyan migrant labor population in GCC countries to be 98.24%. In essence, practically everyone heading to the GCC as a migrant worker from Kenya would become a victim of forced labor at some point.

For key findings and recommendations, download the briefing. For more, download the full report:

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.

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