Beirut, Lebanon – In the week the world celebrates the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Walk Free Foundation (WFF) called on governments to take more concrete action to protect migrant workers amidst worsening conditions in the Middle East and North African region (MENA). WFF and IOM today released a new report ‘The Other Migrant Crisis: Protecting migrant workers against exploitation in the Middle East and North Africa’ during a regional dialogue facilitated by IOM entitled “Bringing Innovation Forward: Combating Trafficking in Persons and Exploitation of Migrant Workers in MENA.” From 2 – 4 Dec. This regional dialogue was organized within the framework of IOM’s project on Action to Protect and Assist Vulnerable and Exploited Migrant Workers in Middle East and North Africa (PAVE), funded by the European Union and co-funded by the Italian Ministry of Interior. The report exposes the current conditions faced by migrant workers who are trafficked and exploited across MENA. The data compiled from 162 victims in this study reveals alarming trends: 100 per cent of workers had their passports withheld, 87 per cent were confined to their workplace; 76 per cent had wages withheld; 73 per cent suffered psychological abuse; and 61 per cent endured physical abuse.

Ongoing armed conflicts and economic instability across MENA creates the perfect climate for modern slavery. Sectarian violence, the rise of extremism and record displacement of populations is heavily impacting the region. This unprecedented and complex humanitarian emergency can hide the critical needs of the burgeoning migrant population workforce. Emerging reports of migrant workers trapped in conflict zones, being used as human shields and captured by armed groups further heightens the crucial need to act immediately. Supply of and demand for cheap migrant labors shows no signs of diminishing. There is an urgent need for governments in the region to act in response to the recorded experiences of trafficking and exploitation among migrant workers. Political statements bringing attention to this issue must be supported by practical measures. IOM and WFF call on local governments to: introduce legal reforms to ensure the most vulnerable workers – agricultural and domestic workers – are covered by basic labour law protection; more consistent application and enforcement of labour protection laws; urgently address the predominance of withholding passports of migrant employees; support victims to ensure they are not further traumatized by arrest and detention; and hold employers and recruiters to account for their role in exploitation. Fiona David, Executive Director of Research at the Walk Free Foundation said, “This research comes at a crucial time. Recognizing the vulnerability of migrants to human trafficking must be at the forefront of government and IOs response to the conflict. This research can serve as a tool for governments and civil society groups, including the general public, to educate, lobby, and develop policies for better migrant worker protection.”Fawzi Al-Zioud, IOM Chief of Mission in Lebanon said, “We must ensure that human trafficking is given the highest priority so that criminals cannot be allowed to further exploit the vulnerable in what is already a highly complex situation.” Dr Alexis Loeber, Head of the Cooperation Section at the Delegation of the European Union to Lebanon said that “since 2013, the EU has been supporting the IOM through the PAVE project to help countries in the MENA region to build a regional response to combat trafficking and exploitation and to ensure a better protection of victims. The project also aims at improving the national responses of the countries involved as much as possible. The regional dialogue brings together key practitioners and pioneers in the field of counter-trafficking, including key government officials and civil society actors to discuss challenges and strategies going forward in combating trafficking in persons.

The Minister of Justice Major-General Ashraf Rifi stated at the opening of the Regional Dialogue: terrorist organizations look for recourses to generate funds to support their criminal activities in particular this organized crime. Therefore, he stressed that the response requires from all of us a deep understanding and joint efforts to combat this phenomenon. The Ministry of Justice has set a legal framework to establish courts and judicial departments specialized in terrorism and organized crimes. His Excellency added: “Combating trafficking in persons requires unprecedented joint efforts to take necessary measures to keep up with this fast-growing crime.

Have your say on government responses to modern slavery

When it comes to holding business and governments to account, do we name and shame? Name and sue? Name and engage? Show and know?

These were just some of the many different approaches to holding governments and businesses to account, discussed by the panel on data and trafficking at the Thomson Reuters Trust Women conference yesterday in London.

No matter which of these approaches is preferred, all panelists agreed – data is a critical pre-condition to being able to hold governments and business to account. 

In an effort to hold governments to account, the Global Slavery Index includes a strong focus on what Governments are doing – and not doing – to combat modern slavery.

While much of the focus is on the prevalence estimates in the Global Slavery Index, the “Government Response” part of the Index brings together a total of 17,000 data-points, covering 167 governments, as part of providing a sound basis for assessing strength of government responses to modern slavery.

While we do look at factors such as laws and policies, we also look at other indicators that are about results – not words on paper.  

For example, when we look at training for police, we look at whether training happened – but we also look at the scope and geographical reach of the training, and whether this leads to an increase in identification of victims. 

Many of the variables we collect are not about laws and law enforcement but are about the factors, that Governments control, that make people vulnerable to exploitation. What are the rules on recruitment of migrant workers? By law, who pays the fees?  Is there evidence of widespread withholding of passports?

Gathering data on this scale allows us to look at how effort compares to resources. Of course, it is no surprise that well-off governments with strong rule of law, like the Netherlands, rank highly on this Index. But its also important to look at outliers. When government responses are correlated with national GDP, countries such as Georgia and the Philippines are making a lot of effort. Vice versa, countries such as Malaysia and Qatar could do far more given their relative wealth. 

Last year we undertook a survey of governments to better understand their efforts. We know that Governments put their best foots forward when describing their efforts to combat modern slavery.  This year, we are undertaking a survey of NGOs and independent experts, to understand how these responses are experienced on the ground.  We hope this will enable us to see past the spin, with a clearer view of how policies are being implemented in practice.

If you work for an NGO with a focus on modern slavery, human trafficking, forced labour or forced marriage, I encourage you to take a look at the survey. It takes about 45 minutes to complete – a significant investment of time for any organisation – but worth-while as the results will help to build a strong, independent picture of how governments are responding to modern slavery.

Take part in the NGO survey here

Walk Free and Salvation Army calling for Government of Australia to Ratify ILO Convention 189 on Domestic Workers

Perth, Sydney 17 June – Walk Free and the Salvation Army’s Freedom Partnership to End Modern Slavery are calling on the Australian Government to sign the Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers (ILO C.189) and protect the rights of migrant workers in Australia. A new report released today entitled “Improving Protections for Domestic Workers in Australia” highlights the current challenges to protecting domestic workers in Australia and the reasons why Australia should ratify this convention. The only Government that has signed Domestic Worker’s Convention in the Asia Pacific region is the Philippines.

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Improved methodology highlights 20% more people across the world in modern slavery than previous estimated, according to the Global Slavery Index 2014

Global Slavery Index 2014 key findings:

  • Modern slavery exists in all 167 countries covered by the GSI
  • Total number of people enslaved: 35.8 million people
  • Improved methodology uncovers 20% more enslaved people than previously estimated
  • Five countries account for 61% of the world’s population living in modern slavery
  • Africa and Asia continue to face biggest challenges

Please note that throughout, the terms ‘enslaved’ and ‘slavery’ are used as synonyms of ‘modern slavery’ and should not be interpreted to suggest traditional slavery in which people were held in bondage as legal property, which has been outlawed in every country across the word.
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