GFEMS, in collaboration with IST Research and the NEEV consortium, has undertaken a large-scale research effort aimed at understanding the recruitment, migration, and employment experiences of Indian workers from the rural Bundelkhand region who migrate to the Delhi National Capital Region (NCR) for work in the booming construction sector.
Rural workers typically migrate seasonally based on “push factors” tied to agricultural cycles, increasingly being impacted by unpredictable rainfall, and “pull factors” such as the demand for construction labor in major cities. In fact, construction is now the second largest sector of employment in India. These domestic migrant workers are at risk of being exploited by the existing system of labor recruitment in the construction sector, where intermediary agents routinely charge workers with recruitment fees and a percentage of wages in recurring commission. The sector is further characterized by a high degree of informality, with multi-layered supply chains that readily obscure exploitation. Coupled with this, the majority of workers in this labor market are members of already vulnerable populations, deepening forced labor risks in the construction industry.
The majority of workers in this labor market are members of already vulnerable populations, deepening forced labor risks in the construction industry.
The migrant worker study enrolls prospective domestic migrants into the study at their points of departure (i.e., home villages and major transportation hubs), and collects basic demographic information. The participants are then tracked through their seasonal journeys to work in the construction industry via follow-up phone surveys. To date, the study has enrolled over 63,200 prospective migrant workers into the study, and has tracked and followed-up with over 24,500 of these participants via phone surveys to collect data on their migration experiences and labor conditions. Any participants that are identified as potential victims of forced labor during follow-up surveys are connected to local assistance services.
GFEMS is also leveraging the study to test the viability of three potentially scalable interventions that are being implemented in parallel, aimed at building the resilience of migrant construction workers to protect against forced labor and exploitation. These interventions are: providing access to targeted social welfare entitlements, validating their existing skills through a recognition of prior learning (RPL) certification, and facilitating non-exploitative working environments via ethical micro-contractors who are also participating in the study.
The study has four key objectives:
- Estimate the prevalence of forced labor and exploitation within the Bundelkhand-Delhi NCR construction migration corridor;
- Identify key vulnerability indicators associated with forced labor among domestic migrant workers in the construction industry;
- Determine the effectiveness of project interventions aimed at protecting workers’ rights and safeguarding against forced labor and exploitation risks;
- Facilitate real-time victim identification and assistance to at-risk workers.
Through regular surveys of participants, the project has been able to identify and refer 670 at-risk workers to the Fund’s in-country partners for follow-up, and over 1,700 migrant workers have voluntarily called into a local helpline. For these callers and the at-risk workers, Jan Sahas, a member of the NEEV consortium, has been investigating cases of forced labor, and, where appropriate, preparing complaints and liaising with government authorities to ensure that exploited workers are rescued. Jan Sahas has also been providing post-rescue support to survivors in the form of legal assistance to file criminal cases, assistance with wage recovery, and connections to rehabilitation services. So far, Jan Sahas has facilitated the rescue and release of 185 migrant workers from situations of bonded labor, provided legal assistance to migrant workers to file 29 criminal cases and 432 civil cases, and supported over 2,500 exploited workers with wage recovery and arbitration.
The project has been able to identify and refer 670 at-risk workers to the Fund’s in-country partners for follow-up, and over 1,700 migrant workers have voluntarily called in to the helpline.
Ongoing analysis of worker responses has revealed a statistically significant correlation between the use of labor brokers and indicators of forced labor and exploitation. Furthermore, workers who are women, who have lower education levels, lower wages, or are from lower castes are more vulnerable. In addition, there is a positive correlation between debt and forced labor in the construction sector. Consolidated findings on vulnerability characteristics of workers, prevalence estimates of forced labor in the construction industry, and the assessed viability of the three implemented interventions will be disseminated to key government and private sector stakeholders in India to enable them to better target migrant worker-focused programming for modern slavery reduction, and to ensure these key actors have a greater understanding of, and alignment on, the scale and drivers of worker exploitation in the construction sector.
GFEMS looks forward sharing more about to the ongoing LMT study. Subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn for updates on the latest developments, news, and opportunities with GFEMS.