Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Migrant workers and debt bondage

28. Debt bondage in the context of labour migration and trafficking is a trend that can be seen across a number of countries and sectors. Migrant workers often become trapped in situations of bondage by borrowing money at exorbitant interest rates to pay recruitment fees or by taking an advance payment from intermediaries to secure work in the country of destination. Once migrants arrive in the country of destination they are often forced to work in harsh conditions to pay back debt they have accrued. Furthermore, workers are commonly subjected to threats and physical abuse, and in some cases face severe restrictions to their freedom of movement. The vast majority of people trafficked to countries in North America, Europe and the Middle East and to other developed countries are migrant workers who are trafficked into a variety of jobs including domestic work, agricultural work, prostitution and factory work and are often controlled through debt bondage and other mechanisms.

29. In the Middle East, migrant workers represent a significant portion of the labour force in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, particularly in the private sector. The individual sponsorship system, known as the kafalah system, which ties the employment and residency of a worker to a specific employer, is considered to be an arrangement that creates dependency of the worker on the employer and encourages abuses, including debt bondage. The fees charged by recruitment agencies for travel arrangements, labour contracts and other services trap migrant workers into bondage in their home countries. Consequently, migrant workers are often indebted upon arrival in the country of destination. Furthermore, practices such as the confiscation of passports, the non-payment, underpayment or delayed payment of wages, and contract substitution are considered to contribute to debt bondage. Those who are most susceptible to debt bondage in these countries are Asians who work as migrant labourers and domestic servants. 

30. Exploitation of migrant workers via debt bondage has also reportedly been seen in South-East Asia. In Thailand, migrant workers, primarily from neighbouring countries including Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Myanmar, are reported to have been subjected to deceptive recruitment practices that can lead to cases of debt bondage.4 Workers are often lured to work on fishing boats free of charge and once theystart working are charged for the costs of recruitment and the travel expenses, with high  interest rates.


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