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

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.”, 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.

As the first point of contact for workers, micro-contractors present a much more relevant and effective intervention point than top down efforts

From the Bottom Up: Micro-contractors are Key to Protecting Migrant Workers in India’s Construction Industry

Ramesh* was 15 when he left his home and family in rural Uttarakhand and migrated to Delhi NCR. He had left in search of work and the opportunity to help his family whose financial situation, already precarious, had grown dire when his father became unwell. As a teenager alone in an unfamiliar city, Ramesh became easy prey for unscrupulous brokers eager to exploit his vulnerability. Deceived by a recruiter, he became trapped in a situation of debt bondage, unable to leave his employer until he managed to escape with the support of a local social worker. 

For the next eight years, Ramesh worked as a daily wage laborer on various construction sites. Eventually, he progressed to obtaining work orders for minor components of construction projects and was able to hire a small team of workers. However, despite his near-decade of experience with the work itself, Ramesh was unversed in how to navigate the informal nature of the construction business. He was defrauded on multiple occasions by larger contractors and developers who took advantage of verbal agreements and informal quotations to pay him unfairly, late, or, in some instances, to default on payments entirely. Ramesh faced significant losses, losses that were born not just by Ramesh but by the team that he had hired. He was unable to pay his workers the wages he had promised. Nor could Ramesh raise his grievances with authorities. He relied on word-of-mouth relationships with these larger contractors for references and future work orders. The optimism with which he had viewed the opportunity quickly deflated. Without any real understanding of formal contracting, Ramesh and those whom he employed, were cheated, exploited, and left with no outlet for redress. 

Migrant workers are at high risk of exploitation

Ramesh is one of hundreds of thousands of micro-contractors, situated at the very end of the sprawling and fractured supply chain in India’s construction sector. This sector is one of the fastest-growing in the world and accounts for 9% of India’s GDP. It is the country’s second-largest employer, attracting millions of migrant workers to urban centers each year.

The industry is characterized by a complex and multi-layered value chain that relies heavily on a floating workforce of migrant workers to meet labor demands. The majority of these workers are low-skilled rural migrants and members of socially disadvantaged communities.

Commonly, they depend on daily wages for their livelihoods, making them particularly vulnerable to exploitation. In a large-scale worker voice study with over 17,000 migrant construction workers in 2019-2020, the Global Fund found that approximately 30% of respondents experienced some form of forced labor risks, with nearly 5% experiencing critically severe forced labor conditions. More than 20% reported restrictions on their movement after work shifts, and over 10% reported facing threats to themselves and their families at their workplace. 

Micro-contractors can improve working conditions but face structural constraints

Micro-contractors like Ramesh are the primary employers of this vulnerable migrant population, employing between 5 and 25 unskilled and semi-skilled workers at a time. They represent the node of the construction supply chain that is most directly connected to migrant workers – they are usually the first point of contact for workers at the end of their migration journey, and are responsible for their recruitment, scope of work, working conditions, working hours, and wages.

Their direct influence over worker well-being makes micro-contractors critical stakeholders that need to be engaged and involved in any programming efforts aimed at worker protections and welfare.

Most micro-contractors spend several years as daily wage workers and often belong to the same communities as the migrants they employ. Rising to the role of micro-contractor may seem a step up, but micro-contractors are at the mercy of structural constraints that often leave them with very few options to improve working conditions. Critically, micro-contractors regularly face irregular and delayed payments from their contractors which often limits their ability to pay timely and full wages to workers. As they are only paid when they complete a particular work order, they absorb the majority of risk as it is passed down the supply chain. Since they typically have no access to affordable financing options and often lack financial safety nets, they often take out high-interest loans through informal channels in order to stay afloat, increasing volatility and potentially trapping them in a cycle of debt bondage.

Further, most micro-contractors operate as unregistered and informally managed businesses and lack the necessary know-how to effectively structure and formalize their practices, leaving them, and consequently the workers they employ, vulnerable to exploitation and without access to channels for redress and remediation. This is the situation that Ramesh confronted. Despite his years of experience in the industry and the seeming opportunity to achieve a better future, Ramesh lacked the necessary support systems and business acumen to succeed in his new role. By extension, so too did the workers he had hired.  

Addressing these systemic constraints faced by micro-contractors has the potential to generate very tangible and immediate positive effects on worker welfare.

Given the absence of clear and direct channels between big developers and the workers on construction sites, micro-contractors present a much more relevant and effective intervention point to drive worker benefits than top-down efforts through large industry stakeholders.

Between 2019 and 2021, the Global Fund and our partners worked to test this hypothesis and piloted efforts to train micro-contractors on both ethical labor practices and technical skills for business development (such as digitizing payment transactions, developing accurate quotes for work orders, and formalizing business contracts). The aim was to support the development of non-exploitative employment conditions that were mutually beneficial for workers and contractors. During this period, over 3,000 migrant workers were employed with the 570 micro-contractors trained through the project. 

A large-scale quantitative study run simultaneously to this project found that workers who were employed with trained micro-contractors faced lower forced labor risks than those in the larger study pool who did not receive this intervention. Qualitatively, workers employed by trained micro-contractors expressed a desire to stay on with these employers as they had taken steps to create safe and equitable work environments, including ensuring on-time wage payments, providing safety equipment for risky jobs, and helping meet essential needs such as food, accommodation, and childcare at construction sites. Notably, women working for trained micro-contractors highlighted the non-discriminatory practices employed in the workplace. Unlike their previous experiences in the construction industry, they were now paid separately from their spouses and at an equal rate. The trained micro-contractors internalized the concept that fostering ethical relationships with workers contributes greater value on both sides. They further confirmed that technical and business practice training allowed them to formalize their work agreements and develop more secure contracts with clients to avoid payment defaults, enabling them to pay their workers on time and yielding positive outcomes with worker retention and productivity.

Buoyed by these initial learnings, GFEMS is currently investing in expanded programming in India through our partners Sattva, Labournet, and Kois Invest.

This programming is focused on providing additional cohorts of micro-contractors with access to low-cost working capital loans, channels for stable work orders, and training on ethical labor and business practices. The Global Fund views engagement with micro-contractors as a cornerstone of our approach to eliminating forced labor in the construction industry. We continue to generate evidence to build the “business case” for investing at the micro-contractor level. Trained in business and ethical practices, micro-contractors can better protect themselves and the men and women they hire. They can transform systems of exploitation. 

If you are interested in partnering with the Global Fund, please contact

*Ramesh is a composite character based on research findings and discussions with implementing partners. Uttarakhand is a state in Northern India.

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

2021 Impact Report

2021 saw the Fund continue its programming in Kenya, Uganda, India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Vietnam and launch a new project focused on coffee production in Brazil. Through it all, the work was first and foremost about the difference it made for those most affected by modern slavery. For this Impact Report, we focused on these stories, and in our work this year we began to move more fully towards meaningful survivor leadership.

Migrant workers in the Indian construction industry face risks to their freedom, and economic and personal safety.

Research and Programming on Migrant Workers in India’s Construction Sector

Construction is the second largest industry in India, responsible for an estimated 60 million jobs. Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was also one of its fastest growing sectors. In response to the significant demand for construction labor in major cities, millions of rural workers migrate seasonally to India’s urban centers to help address the shortfall of jobs.

Currently, migrant construction workers face several risks. They often lack networks of support at destination sites and are preyed upon by intermediary agents who routinely charge workers recruitment fees or a percentage of wages in recurring commission. Those workers who are able to bypass this broker system often still need to take advances or loans from either employers or private money lenders to cover their migration costs, generating debt burdens that leave them vulnerable to a range of labor abuses. These risks are exacerbated by the nature of the construction industry itself – a sector that is characterized by a high degree of informality and multi-layered supply chains that readily obscure exploitation.

Coupled with this, workers in this labor market are typically members of already vulnerable populations, deepening forced labor risks in the construction industry. While the Indian government has put in place a number of welfare schemes targeted at these workers, there is a general lack of awareness among migrant workers of existing benefit and entitlement programs, and further, as informal workers, the majority lack the necessary documentation required to access them. Most are also unaware of remediation options should they need to file a grievance or report workplace exploitation.

The findings in this brief represent evidence and inputs gathered directly from migrant construction workers, their family
members, micro-contractors, and other construction industry stakeholders. These consolidated insights shed light on
vulnerabilities specific to migrant workers in India’s construction sector, existing gaps in current worker-focused policies and
service delivery, and the viability of selected intervention models aimed at improving labor practices and outcomes for
workers. Drawing on these learnings, this report includes recommendation to inform action at various levels to ensure
the safety and protection of migrant construction workers.

For key findings and recommendations, download the briefing.

The full technical report completed by our research partner, Two Six Technologies, is also available for download.

We’re making a difference in the lives of tens of thousands of migrants and their families. Join us today.

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Financial Security Means Safer Migration: Reducing Vulnerabilities Among Migrant Workers in India’s Construction Industry

In December 2020, an operator for the Jan Sahas helpline answered a call from a man claiming that his brother and six other workers were being held in inhumane conditions and against their will at a construction site in Faribadad. The man reported what his brother had told him- that since arriving, the migrants had received no pay for their work.

The Jan Sahas team responded immediately. They reached out to the local police and District Collector (DC) of Faridabad and an investigation was launched. Quickly after arriving at the site, the inspector was able to confirm the veracity of the claim: the workers had indeed been denied wages; none had even enough money to leave the site. An application to the DC filed on behalf of the migrants resulted in an order for restitution against the employers. They were forced to pay Rs. 1,16,340 (about $1,600 USD) in back wages to the workers they had defrauded and another Rs. 9000 (about $125 USD) to cover their transportation home. The network that Jan Sahas, together with GFEMS, set up to monitor and respond to cases of forced labor had worked. The man who had made that initial call to the helpline was reunited with his brother and the other migrants recovered what they had earned. 

The network that Jan Sahas, together with GFEMS, set up to monitor and respond to cases of forced labor had worked. The man who had made that initial call to the helpline was reunited with his brother and the other migrants recovered what they had earned.

The helpline is an essential component of Jan Sahas’ strategy to reduce forced labor in India’s construction industry, but it is only one part of more comprehensive programming. While providing support to those encountering situations of forced labor, Jan Sahas is committed to changing the systems that create vulnerabilities in the first place. In partnership with GFEMS, Jan Sahas developed programming to assess risk factors for forced labor among India’s migrant workers to better mitigate those risks; to raise awareness and ensure access to government entitlements to help migrants build a stronger safety net; and, in partnership with Pratham and Sambhav Foundation, to train employers on ethical labor practices to create safer and better work experiences. These collective efforts have made a difference in the lives of tens of thousands of migrants and their families. Many thousands more are less likely to experience forced labor or exploitation because of the efforts of Jan Sahas and our partners on the ground. 

India’s construction sector

Nearly 40% of India’s population or 450 million people are internal migrants. (This reality was made clear to the world last year when news outlets broadcast the mass exodus that followed the state-issued lockdown.) India’s construction industry is the country’s second largest employer and attracts a large number of migrant workers each year. Approximately thirty to fifty million of India’s construction workers are internal migrants.

While construction work offers an opportunity to earn additional income, especially during the agricultural off-season, evidence indicates that 10 percent or more of migrant construction workers – potentially five million people- could be in forced labor.  Various factors are contributing to this high rate.

Despite an unprecedented contraction of India’s construction industry in the first half of 2020 in response to COVID-19, the sector has made a strong recovery (despite another recent outbreak), and remains one of the fastest growing construction markets in the world. This, combined with a severe shortage of skilled labor and an abundance of informal recruitment brokers and middlemen eager to fill this labor gap, has significantly enhanced migrant workers’ vulnerability to exploitation.  

Jan Sahas: Promoting safe migration and worker protection

Jan Sahas targeted the 450 kilometer migration corridor stretching from Bundelkhand to Delhi. Of the estimated two million migrants who travel this route annually, early prevalence estimations show a rate of forced labor between 7.5 and 10%.

Building a safety net to reduce forced labor risks

For many migrant workers who live in a perpetual state of transit, it is difficult to access government entitlements. Though many are simply unaware of what benefits they are entitled to, others lack the formal documents needed to access these benefits. To overcome both of these challenges, Jan Sahas implemented programming to raise awareness of social welfare entitlements among migrant workers and to help migrants navigate complex government structures and processes. 

Before pursuing entitlements, Jan Sahas organized a series of awareness-raising community meetings to educate workers on existing benefit schemes and criteria for enrollment.  Despite early skepticism from workers who had participated in surveys before but never received promised benefits, the Jan Sahas team worked to gain worker trust and helped thousands register for entitlements including food rations, pensions, and those offered specifically to construction workers under India’s Building and Other Construction Workers (BOCW). 

Registering for entitlements can be cumbersome. In some localities, workers must present in-person at labor department offices to access benefits, which often means taking off work. BOCW cards require proof of work in the same location for 90 days, a requirement that many migrant workers are unable to meet. Others simply do not have the formal documentation needed for a successful application. 

To help overcome some of these obstacles, Jan Sahas guided migrant workers through the application process, clarifying more technical language and assisting in the preparation or collection of required documents. During the project period, Jan Sahas helped over 27,000 workers and their families access direct cash or cash-equivalent benefits. While follow-up interviews with workers revealed that most would not have known about entitlements or how to access them without Jan Sahas’ intervention, these entitlements provide a safety net for workers, allowing them greater agency to choose when and where they will work. 

Jan Sahas helped over 27,000 workers and their families access direct cash or cash-equivalent benefits. Follow-up interviews with migrant workers revealed that most would not have known about entitlements or how to access them without Jan Sahas’ intervention.

Beyond entitlements, awareness-raising campaigns introduced migrant workers to Jan Sahas’ toll-free helpline. The helpline is an outlet for workers to file grievances, report instances of forced labor or inhumane treatment, seek redress for lost wages, and access legal support services. In an expression of gratitude for the establishment of a helpline, a worker in Delhi reported that he “lost between INR 10,000-15,000 ($134-200 USD) of wage payments before a helpline was operational.” 

Supporting Migrant Workers during COVID-19

When COVID-19 struck in spring 2020 and India entered lockdown, the response from Jan Sahas and other implementing partners was immediate. As the true impact of the pandemic began to show in job losses and rising unemployment, the Indian government increased entitlement allotments and issued new benefits to help mitigate the worst effects. Jan Sahas, with a tracking and communication system already in place, intensified its outreach efforts to ensure migrant workers, a group left even more vulnerable by the pandemic and subsequent shutdowns, could access needed support. A migrant from Faridabad whom Jan Sahas had helped register for government entitlements captured the dire reality for many migrant workers during COVID: “Without ration or cash transfers, we would not have survived the challenges of COVID-19.”

In addition, Jan Sahas was able to utilize the existing programmatic framework to identify and provide food relief to over 1,000 of the most vulnerable migrant households.

Gathering data to assess risk factors and improve programming

Foundational to Jan Sahas’ programming was the development and implementation of a longitudinal migration tracking (LMT) system. This system is designed to capture data on migrant workers to better understand risk factors for forced labor, paying particular attention to whether program interventions decreased the likelihood of exploitation.  

To build a strong evidence base, Jan Sahas conducted extensive outreach at various departure points, including home villages and transit hubs, to register workers. Successfully registering over 89,000 migrant workers, surveyors then followed up at destination sites to assess the effectiveness of program interventions- specifically, access to entitlements and operation of a helpline- on reducing the incidence of forced labor. Follow-up communication with registered workers, combined with worker interviews, revealed that Jan Sahas’ programming was making a difference. Workers who were helped to access social protection benefits reported additional income and savings while those accessing the helpline were able to recover unpaid wages, escape forced labor conditions, and generally, feel safer. Jan Sahas hopes this data will encourage greater investment in similar prevention efforts. When more is known about migrant workers and experiences and what factors increase risks of exploitation, targeted action can be taken to reduce and ultimately eradicate forced labor.

Engaging employers to reduce the risk of forced labor

While Jan Sahas supported migrants to build greater financial security and provided them an outlet to air grievances and pursue justice, other implementing partners focused on developing the capacity of micro-contractors. Micro-contractors are the primary employers of unskilled and semi-skilled construction workers, employing between 5 and 25 persons at a time. Pratham and Sambhav led an effort to train micro-contractors on ethical labor practices to reduce the risk of forced labor among vulnerable migrants. Workers employed by trained micro-contractors expressed a desire to stay on with these employers as they had taken steps to create safe and equitable work environments, including ensuring on-time wage payments, providing safety equipment for risky jobs, and helping meet essential needs such as food and accommodation at destination sites. Women working for trained micro-contractors noted especially the attention these employers paid to eliminating discriminatory gender practices in the workplace. Unlike other employers, program-trained micro-contractors paid women separately from their spouses, ensuring greater female economic agency. 

Building local capacity to effect sustainable change

Jan Sahas’ programming to address forced labor in India’s construction industry has reached tens of thousands of workers. Some have received support to exit forced labor conditions, others have registered successfully for entitlements to reduce risks of exploitation, and still others have filed grievances to recoup lost wages.  Though this program may have formally concluded, Jan Sahas set up people and systems to carry its benefits forward. They successfully trained hundreds of social advocates or “barefoot lawyers” who will continue to share information on labor laws, rights, and entitlements with migrant workers and aid in benefit enrollments. Moreover, Jan Sahas continues to collaborate with key government actors at each stage of program implementation, including India’s Department of Labor, and other stakeholder groups across civil society, philanthropy, and the private sector to sustainably end forced labor.  We are proud to be a part of this collaboration.

Jan Sahas is a community and survivor-centric nonprofit organization committed to ending sexual violence and forced labor. To learn more, please visit Jan Sahas.

This article and the project it references were funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of State. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of State.

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

2020 Impact Report

In 2020, as the world adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Global Fund expanded to Uganda and Kenya with a new suite of partners, and increased our funding in India and Bangladesh, and as our earliest programming began to show high impact. Through the year, we supported over 13,000 people in financial security, reducing their risks of modern slavery; engaged 6,300 plus people in awareness programming, and provided direct COVID relief to 1,700 survivors and at-risk people in India and Bangladesh.

These programs were made possible with funding from the United States Department of State, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, and the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office.

Tracking of over 24,000 workers has helped us to identify forced labor, recover wages for survivors, and provide legal assistance in over 450 criminal and civil cases.

Over 24,500 have participated in our migrant worker study: Here’s what we’ve learned

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:
  1. Estimate the prevalence of forced labor and exploitation within the Bundelkhand-Delhi NCR construction migration corridor; 
  2. Identify key vulnerability indicators associated with forced labor among domestic migrant workers in the construction industry;
  3. Determine the effectiveness of project interventions aimed at protecting workers’ rights and safeguarding against forced labor and exploitation risks; 
  4. 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.