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.
We Need More Ethical Recruitment Startups
Ethical recruitment is a high priority for GFEMS, as it is for many other organizations fighting modern slavery. Ethical recruitment is a solution that offers great promise to ensure that labor migration leads to successful outcomes, and not to exploitation.
One in four victims of forced labor is an international migrant — nearly six million people. The vast, complex system of overseas labor recruitment is a key driver of outcomes for labor migrants. Transforming these systems requires a holistic approach, of which we believe ethical recruitment can be a cornerstone.
Within ethical recruitment, we take multiple approaches that we see as complementary. We engage at the policy level, as our partners International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Blas F. Ople Policy Center are doing in the Philippines and International Labor Organization (ILO) in Vietnam. We engage at the industry level, as IOM and Responsible Business Alliance (RBA) have done in multiple geographies with us. We even engage at the individual and community level, to change perceptions and behaviors related to ethical recruitment, which our partner ASK India is doing in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, for example. And we lead with evidence from start to finish, conducting prevalence estimation, worker voice studies, and synthesizing our learnings across academia, private industry, non-governmental organizations, and the public sector.
One approach the field needs to see more of is ethical recruitment startups, be they startup agencies or other relevant businesses. Social enterprises like these have tremendous potential for impact. They may not offer the same breadth as industry-wide engagement, but they offer direct, deep impact as well as second- and third-order effects that can drive industry-wide change (e.g., driving up market prices for employers, which leads to lower worker turnover). But to realize their potential, we need more social entrepreneurs to pursue these models, and we need more funding that is the right fit for them.
An ethical recruitment startup can be many things. It can be a recruitment agency. Running a recruitment agency may sound unglamorous to some aspiring social entrepreneurs, but it offers direct, tangible impact and simpler models that may appeal to entrepreneurs whose strength is in management and execution. They also often have low startup costs and low barriers to self-sufficiency.
GFEMS has already had some success with the startup approach. Fair Employment Foundation (FEF) and Seefar’s TERA are great examples of ethical recruitment agency startups. They demonstrate that an ethical recruiter can be an excellent business. It is hard to even call FEF a startup anymore, now that they have one of the leading agencies in Hong Kong and have influenced the entire market. Other pioneers and precedents are cause for optimism, too. Staffhouse, an ethical recruiter since before it was a named phenomenon, is the largest agency in the Philippines. Pinkcollar, a startup in Malaysia, was profitable less than a year after launching.
Recruitment agencies are not the only path, though. Recruitment platforms, enterprise software, migrant worker engagement tools, and other non-tech service solutions all have the potential for profitable, impactful business models that give ethical recruitment a leg up on the unethical competition. These startups will appeal more to the entrepreneurs out there who are looking for novel models or who want to apply tech skills. For example, GFEMS partner Diginex Solutions (another example of an organization that has perhaps graduated beyond the startup nomer) is developing a range of digital tools that improve the cost-effectiveness of ethical recruitment, and similar thinking could inspire other products capable of supporting a social enterprise. Sama, a migrant recruitment platform, raised over a million dollars in 2020 and has the potential to reach a scale that dwarfs even the largest of agencies.
The concepts have been proven. The precedents to believe in these approaches exist. What we need now is more. We need more social entrepreneurs entering this space. We need ethical agencies in every country of origin and destination, forming a global network of end-to-end ethical recruitment. We need an ecosystem of non-agency players who are equipping the agencies, if not offering fundamentally different models.
Equally important, we need more funders fueling these social entrepreneurs. Prevailing modes of funding are not designed for these types of ventures.
Commercially driven investors, including impact investors, are looking for the hockey-stick growth trajectory and exit timelines that do not fit the financial life cycle of an ethical recruitment agency, despite otherwise attractive economics. That could change if any of the current pioneers have breakthroughs that ignite investor attention, but we cannot wait for breakthroughs. We have to make them happen.
More frustrating, ethical recruitment startups are too unconventional or too business-like for many grant-based funding mechanisms. They are generally set up to be run like businesses, not like typical NGOs. Grant-based funders need to overcome technical hangups, like trying to fit continuous business processes into project-based intervention frameworks, and recognize the potential for large-scale, sustainable, and deep impact at a low cost. Even foundations of modest means could kickstart an ethical recruitment agency that has immediate benefits for workers and long-term impact on a larger scale.
Worth noting is that FEF, with the support of some forward-looking supporters, has launched what could be an elegant impact-investing solution that combines equity and debt to better match the needs of investors and ethical recruitment agency startups. Put this initiative in the ‘one to watch’ category (or the ‘one to support now’ category if you are a funder).
The bottom line, though, is that the anti-modern slavery field should be motivating more social entrepreneurs to pursue ethical recruitment ventures and should be supporting them with appropriate financing to be successful. They won’t necessarily all be successful. And they won’t necessarily be enough to solve all the problems of labor migration. But they offer enormous potential impact that the field has under-explored for far too long.
GFEMS looks forward to providing updates on this project and sharing our learnings with the anti-trafficking community. For updates on this project and others like it, subscribe to our newsletter, or follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.
How GFEMS and Willow International are partnering to empower survivors, build resilience in Uganda
As a part of our partnership with the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, GFEMS is pleased to share the launch of our new project with Willow International. Coupled with other efforts in the portfolio, the Fund’s objective in this project is to build resiliency against exploitative recruitment among vulnerable populations in Uganda. This includes not only pre-labor migration support, training, and resources, but also rehabilitation and reintegration services for survivors, reducing their risk of re-trafficking.
Ethical recruitment is a key focus of the Fund’s efforts. Working within our intervention framework, we target reduction in supply of vulnerable individuals, demand for cheap goods and services, and the enabling environment that allows modern slavery to persist and traffickers to operate with impunity. This project specifically targets reduction of the supply of vulnerable individuals.
The project will expand a range of pre-migration and survivor services, including holistic survivor care services, legal support, and educational, vocational, and economic training and opportunities for survivors and at-risk individuals. These services aim to empower workers with the skills and resources they need to recognize risky employment situations and create sustainable livelihoods within their communities and families.
Willow’s trauma-informed survivor care program is a multi-faceted rehabilitation program helping survivors heal from trauma, be free from re-victimization, reconcile with family, and eventually reintegrate into the community. Willow will work with survivors to provide the tools and support necessary to learn a vocation, start a business, or pursue education to re-enter society as fully engaged
productive members. The survivor-led approach reintegrates survivors and at-risk individuals into the economic fabric of Uganda by providing a choice of alternative livelihood pathways, including connection to jobs in growth sectors.
Rehabilitation and reintegration for survivors is critical to sustainable success of anti-slavery interventions. It can have a ripple effect throughout the community – ending interlocking cycles of abuse, poverty, and exploitation.
GFEMS incorporates rigorous research and evaluation agendas into all of its programs. In our partnership with Willow in Uganda, we will:
- Measure the effectiveness of aftercare services in meeting the needs of survivors,
- Evaluate the impact of training and education on survivor participation in the economy and how the provided services decrease victims’ vulnerabilities to re-trafficking,
- Assess how Willow International’s Community-Based Care Program differs from traditional shelter-based models and how this affects the reintegration process for forced labor victims.
GFEMS looks forward to providing updates on this project and sharing our learnings with the anti-trafficking community. For updates on this project and others like it, subscribe to our newsletter, or follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.
This article and the Willow International project 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.
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GFEMS, ILO support new law protecting Vietnamese migrant workers
The Global Fund to End Modern Slavery (GFEMS), in collaboration with the International Labour Organization, is supporting the Legislative Reform of Labor Migration project in Vietnam. The National Assembly adopted the revised Law on Contract-Based Overseas Workers on November 13, 2020, which will improve protection for Vietnamese migrant workers and reduce vulnerability to human trafficking when it goes into effect on January 1, 2022. Now that the law has been adopted, GFEMS and the ILO are pleased to support the development of subordinate legislation to operationalize the reforms. Read the full press release from ILO:
ILO commits to supporting Viet Nam to enforce new law on Vietnamese migrant workers
HANOI (ILO News) – On International Migrants Day (18 December), the ILO welcomes the chance to improve the protection of Vietnamese migrant workers brought by the newly-revised Law on Contract-Based Vietnamese Overseas Workers. The Law, passedby the National Assembly on 13 November 2020, which will come into effect on 1 January 2022, builds upon previous Vietnamese legislation to strengthen protections for migrant workers.
In particular, the new Law has removed brokerage commissions payable by migrant workers to recruitment agencies, and prohibited charging service charges to migrant workers who use public, non-profit entities to migrate abroad. Migrant workers who pay high recruitment fees and related costs are more vulnerable to labour exploitation. including forced labor/human trafficking.
“By reducing allowable costs chargeable to migrant workers, the Law offers greater protection from these harms,” said ILO’s Regional Labour Migration Specialist, Nilim Baruah. “When workers are indebted by high migration costs, they may be less able to leave employment when they are abused, exploited or forced to work. Removing brokerage commission from the costs permitted to be paid by migrant workers goes part way to addressing this risk.”
For recruitment agencies, the new Law retains certain categories of costs chargeable to migrant workers, namely the service charge and deposits, but sets limits and will detail the amounts allowable in subordinate legislation to be developed over 2021. The Law states that service charges in subordinate legislation should not exceed the ceiling of three months’ salary, which recruitment agencies can take from workers and receiving partners. Setting this ceiling for these costs will enable migrant workers to make informed decisions about migration, and for awareness to be raised about the costs of regular migration.
The Law prohibits discrimination and forced labour within labour migration and permits workers who are subjected to, or threatened with, maltreatment, sexual harassment or forced labour to unilaterally terminate their employment contracts without financial penalty. Under the new Law, recruitment agencies may have their licence revoked if they use deceitful advertising or other deceptive means to recruit workers for the purpose of forced labour/ trafficking in persons or other forms of exploitation.
Additionally, as part of pre-departure orientation training, recruitment agencies are required to provide knowledge and skills in the prevention of forced labour/trafficking in persons, and gender-based violence
“The Vietnamese Government’s commitment to prevention of forced labour in labour migration is evident in the passing of this revised Law,” said Baruah. “The Law takes the critical first step towards reducing recruitment fees and related costs charged to migrant workers.”
The ILO’s Private Employment Agencies Convention, 1997 (No. 181) and ILO’s General principles and operational guidelines for fair recruitment state that “workers shall not be charged directly or indirectly, in whole or in part, any fees or related costs for their recruitment” and that “prospective employers, public or private, or their intermediaries, and not the workers, should bear the cost of recruitment.”
“The ILO is committed to supporting the process of development of subordinate legislation through social dialogue, and implementation of the Law throughout 2021 and into the future,” said ILO Viet Nam Director, Chang-Hee Lee.
This year’s International Migrants Day celebrates the 30th anniversary of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. The passage of the Law on Contract-Based Vietnamese Overseas Workers is an important step towards labour migration being an empowering and enriching experience for all Vietnamese migrant workers.
Reducing vulnerability to forced labor: Building a safe labor migration ecosystem in source communities
In partnership with the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), GFEMS is working with Association for Stimulating Know-how (ASK) to build a safe labor migration ecosystem in Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Bihar, India. The migration ecosystem involves all aspects along a migrant’s journey abroad: from awareness of risks, to support provided by their family, community, and employers, to access to the means and resources to work abroad, to access to systems helping resolve issues. Focusing on major source communities for migrant labor, the project aims to reduce the prevalence of forced labor among migrant workers extremely vulnerable to slavery by creating an ecosystem that addresses specific source-side vulnerabilities.
ASK has been working for the past 27 years to build knowledge and skills for vulnerable populations and to bring about sustainable and measurable change in the lives of the people they work with. ASK’s core expertise includes planning and management of large-scale projects in the field of safe migration, sustainability, livelihoods, and health and education, with an approach to reducing community vulnerabilities grounded in economic empowerment and support services. Aligned with the Fund’s efforts to reduce the supply of vulnerable workers, ASK works closely with migrant workers to improve their economic well being and ensure stakeholder adherence to labor and human rights.
The Fund’s scoping research showed that UP and Bihar are key migrant sending states for Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. Accordingly, the project provides interventions for aspiring overseas migrant workers originating from UP and Bihar. Specific vulnerabilities to be addressed by this project include: reliance on unsafe migration channels, lack of migrant preparedness in the recruitment process, lack of family and community awareness about the recruitment process, lack of support services (or use of them) for migrants and their families, economic vulnerabilities of migrants and their families, and debt bondage.
To help build a safe migration ecosystem, ASK will establish Migrant Resource Centers (MRCs) within two Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). The MRCs will deliver migrants services that reduce source-side drivers of vulnerability to forced labor. Services include pre-decision and pre-deployment training, basic paralegal and reintegration support (primarily through referrals), and assistance registering for entitlements for aspiring, in-service, and returning migrants and their families.
In parallel, ASK will build the capability and capacity of the CSOs to own and operate the MRCs beyond the project implementation period. These MRCs are a key example of the Fund’s focus on interventions that can be sustained beyond GFEMS funding, ensuring programs have continuing and long-term impact.
The dual lack of financial knowledge and access to quality financial services is a key problem for migrants and their families. Without financial literacy and access to financial services, migrants are vulnerable to economic shocks. In response, this project, with support from Mitrata Inclusive Financial Services, will test financial health innovations to determine if migrant-focused financial products or services work and if there is a market for them.
In the long term, this project will reduce migrant vulnerability to unsafe practices in the recruitment and labor migration process that often lead to forced labor. Specifically, it will ensure survivor recovery and reintegration and reduce the number of workers who pursue risky migration and who fall into debt bondage, reducing the vulnerabilities that lead to modern slavery by.
Systemic Improvement in Survivor Care: Supporting and advancing survivor rehabilitation and reintegration in Bangladesh
With support from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), GFEMS is partnering with the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) in a new project providing recovery and reintegration services to survivors of forced labor, returned migrants, and additional vulnerable populations in Bangladesh.
CAFOD is a leading, UK-based agency with over thirty years of experience working collaboratively in Bangladesh with local partners. Together with Caritas Bangladesh (CB) and Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program (OKUP), CAFOD will provide immediate and long-term support to vulnerable and returned migrants and survivors of abuse and exploitation. The project will focus on reintegration support efforts in some of the highest labor-sending districts of Bangladesh.
GFEMS invests in projects that disrupt the supply of vulnerable populations and works with stakeholders to combat exploitation. To further this objective, the project will:
- Work closely with the Government of Bangladesh to strengthen survivor reintegration services and referral pathways.
- Address the social and economic challenges that vulnerable migrants and survivors experience. Through community engagement activities, the project will cultivate systemic advancements in reintegration support and survivor services, resulting in improvements to the current reintegration, recovery, and referral system in Bangladesh.
- Provide trauma-informed psychosocial and physical care to returnee migrants immediately upon returning to Bangladesh. CAFOD, Caritas Bangladesh, and OKUP will work together to refer victims and their families to support services and tools for recovery and reintegration. Further supporting returnees and vulnerable migrants in livelihood placement, CB will conduct skills assessments and develop plans for use of these skills to secure employment. With this approach to distributing resources and care, the consortium will provide holistic, needs-based support to survivors and vulnerable migrants.
- Support and advance the current referral system by improving cross-government coordination, delivery of and access to Government-provided services through engagement activities, such as reintegration, recovery, and restitution services.
GFEMS is excited to support the development of an improved system of survivor care for returned migrants in Bangladesh. By taking a needs-based approach to service delivery of healthcare, counseling, shelter, and legal support, this project ensures that survivors receive services that directly meet their needs.
GFEMS looks forward to sharing learnings from the progress of this project, and from working with CAFOD and its consortia partners, in enhancing reintegration support in Bangladesh. Learn more about the Norad partnership and the GFEMS portfolio.
With Norad, GFEMS launches six new projects
GFEMS is proud to launch a new portfolio of interventions and innovations with funding from the Norwegian Agency for Development Corporation (Norad). The portfolio represents a 5.7M USD investment in programming, with additional programming to be added later this year, and will support recovery, reintegration, and rehabilitation of survivors, as well as build safer migration systems for migrants seeking work abroad, their families, and their communities in India and Bangladesh. GFEMS is funding six projects across these focus areas, in partnership with five local, regional, and international organizations. Projects in the Norad portfolio represent an investment in evidence-based, inclusive, and sustainable interventions.
This portfolio marks a new round of in-region projects for GFEMS, following the inaugural portfolio launch in late 2018. The portfolio projects have high potential to reduce vulnerability to trafficking and re-trafficking, informed by an extensive scoping and design phase that included research into structural drivers of modern slavery, vulnerability analyses of target populations, and industry analysis in priority sectors and geographies.
GFEMS and its partners designed the portfolio to address the Fund’s strategic priorities in Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and Ethical Recruitment. Specifically, the projects test new models of ethical recruitment and support growth of existing promising models for survivor care.
GFEMS views modern slavery through an economic lens as a systemic problem driven by traffickers’ exploitation of people for profit: a consistent supply of vulnerable individuals and demand for cheap goods and services. For example, within ethical recruitment, the Fund is lowering the supply of vulnerable workers by providing support to aspiring migrant laborers and making tools for the recruitment journey more accessible, and decreasing the demand for slavery by creating incentives for ethical labor over exploitive recruitment practices. Similarly, within CSE, the Fund is working to reduce the supply of vulnerable individuals through provision of trauma informed care, economic empowerment, and reintegration services. h The Fund ensures that all stakeholders, including the private sector, work together to address modern slavery and the systems on which it relies.
Sustainability is a key priority across the projects and across the Fund’s wider portfolio. GFEMS identifies projects that leverage national priorities and meet market demands, both indicators of high potential for replication and scale. Projects provide vulnerable populations and survivors with the skills and resources they need to live safe and full lives. Within the Norad partnership, GFEMS specifically seeks to support sustainable change in the recruitment industry and provide sustainable livelihoods for survivors of modern slavery.
In the coming weeks, GFEMS is excited to share more information about the projects and partners in this portfolio. The Fund looks forward to sharing the successes and lessons learned as the projects move forward.
Philippines Partners Assist Bahrain in Conviction of Eight Traffickers, Guilty of Trafficking Two OFWs
Through tireless efforts, the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and the Philippines Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) Task Force on Trafficking of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), under a partnership with GFEMS, and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) of the Philippines, have achieved a landmark prosecution of eight traffickers. A conviction of the traffickers, who were responsible for the forced prostitution of two Filipina women, was handed down in Bahrain in April 2020.
The victims, two women who had been working in Dubai in 2018, were trafficked when they responded to the perpetrators’ fraudulent offer of better jobs in Bahrain. Upon their arrival in Bahrain, they were confined in a building and forced into commercial sex for several months before escaping.
On April 28, a Bahrain court sentenced each of the convicted trafficking offenders to seven years imprisonment and a fine of 5,000 dinars each, equivalent to USD $5,300. The convicted include five Filipina women and two Filipino men who recruited the women through fraudulent offers of legitimate work and oversaw their enslavement in an illegal brothel in Bahrain, as well as a Bahraini police officer who was complicit in the trafficking scheme.
The new IACAT Task Force, of which the DFA is an active member, established in early 2019 as part of the Blas F. Ople Center’s partnership with GFEMS, under a grant from the U.S. government, was instrumental in achieving the successful justice outcome through the use of a case conference approach. The IACAT Task Force secured strong evidence from the two victims which it shared with Bahrain, leading to the successful prosecution in the Gulf State. The two managed to escape the syndicate to return to the Philippines where they approached the Ople Center for legal assistance.
Key leaders in the response included the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Under Secretary for Overseas Workers, Ms. Sarah Arriola, who effectively used diplomatic channels in the absence of a formal Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty with Bahrain and Ausamah AlAbsi, Chairman of Bahrain’s National Committee to Combat Trafficking in Persons, and a 2018 TIP Report Hero, who led Bahrain’s cooperation.
GFEMS is proud to be a partner of the Blas F. Ople Center, led by OFW protection champion Susan Ople, and the member agencies of the IACAT Task Force on Trafficking of OFWs.
This article was funded in part 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.
GFEMS Partner Fair Employment Foundation Aids in Expansion of Ethical Recruitment Models
In August 2019, Pinkcollar, Malaysia’s first ethical recruitment agency for domestic workers, opened its doors in Kuala Lumpur. Founded by Zenna Law and Elaine Sim, Pinkcollar aims to disrupt the domestic worker industry and make ethical recruitment the new standard practice in Malaysia. The first of its kind in Malaysia, Pinkcollar follows a growing number of Asia-based firms promoting ethical recruitment.
The Hong Kong-based Fair Employment Foundation (FEF), one of the Fund’s partners on the ground, played a central role in Pinkcollar’s establishment. FEF’s mission is to build market-based solutions to end forced labour of migrant workers in Asia. The first of these market-based solutions was Fair Employment Agency (FEA), a non-profit ethical employment agency that ensures workers are never charged recruitment fees. FEA was set up in 2014 and had its first break-even year in 2018. It is now one of the biggest employment agencies in Hong Kong.
Using models from their own operations and the GFEMS project, FEF helped Pinkcollar to create their ethical recruitment model. FEA’s standards and operations serve as a strong foundation for Pinkcollar’s service processes and as a benchmark that guides Pinkcollar’s progress.
Read the full story to learn more about Pinkcollar and how GFEMS partner with FEF to expand ethical recruitment models across Asia.