A former migrant worker in the home he built in Madagascar from his hard work in Mauritius.
A former migrant worker in the home he built in Madagascar from his hard work in Mauritius. Credit Jessica Turner for Anti-Slavery International

International Migrants Day: Why Access to Remedy is Crucial

By Cristina Patriarca, Safe Migration Officer

Access to remedy is crucial to reduce vulnerability of migrant workers to modern slavery. To honour International Migrant’s Day, Anti-Slavery International’s explains the importance of access to remedy and what businesses can do for a migrant workforce, informed by our successful project aimed at migrant workers in Mauritius.

Today, on International Migrants Day, we focus on millions of people who have left their native homes, for different reasons, to live and work abroad. In 2021, the International Labour Organization estimated there were 169 million migrant workers. Anyone working, temporarily or permanently, in a country of which they do not hold a passport, is a migrant worker. Across the world, migrant workers often perform essential jobs for the functioning of societies and can bring positive impacts to their destinations.

However crucial the jobs that migrant workers perform, those in low-paid jobs especially are often severely exploited and left with no agency of their own. This means that often migrant workers find themselves in conditions of modern slavery, trapped in jobs without any means to independently raise grievances and access remedy for the harm they endure. The most recent Global Estimates of Modern Slavery, published in September 2022, confirm that migrants are at higher risk of modern slavery than other workers and, in fact, migrant adults are overly represented among those in forced labour compared to non-migrants in the global labour force.

Businesses’ responsibility towards migrant workers

The United Nations Guiding Principles, a voluntary set of guidelines endorsed unanimously by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011, clearly outline the businesses responsibility to respect human rights. This means businesses are expected to prevent, mitigate and remedy adverse human rights risks and impacts, including on migrant workers’ rights, generated by their operations and value chains. Yet, experience to date has shown that businesses are still not prioritising migrant workers’ specific vulnerabilities and rights. This needs to change. By setting up the right systems, and by taking responsibility and accountability, businesses have the power to make sure that everyone in their supply chain can enjoy access to decent working conditions and be free from modern slavery.

Our experience in improving access to remedy

Anti-Slavery International works to address the root causes of modern slavery. We work with a variety of stakeholders, including businesses, to tackle systemic issues that enable modern slavery to thrive.

We recently concluded a project aimed at reducing the vulnerability of migrant workers in supply chains in Mauritius. We collaborated with a UK fashion brand, ASOS, which sources from Mauritius, and Confédération des Travailleurs des Secteurs Publique et Privé (CTSP), a local trade union affiliate to IndustriAll Global Union, to create a Migrant Resource Centre (MRC) in Mauritius. The MRC became a safe space where migrant workers could go to report employment-related violations, which were verified and passed onto CTSP to ensure access to remedy and prompt resolution. By the end of the project, over 60% of employment-related violations raised to the MRC had been remedied.

Having a sourcing business involved in the creation of the MRC and supporting its operations, also meant that a relationship was already in place when CTSP addressed employer-related grievances affecting the business supply chain. Business engagement means that grievances can be resolved more promptly, which in turn translates into greater access to remedy. As part of our work in Mauritius we encouraged more companies to support the work of the MRC.

What solutions can businesses implement?

Our learnings point to the important role that businesses play in ensuring that migrant workers in their supply chains have meaningful access to remedy. In practice, this translates into businesses’ responsibility to make sure that workers can – through an independent mechanism not solely governed by the employer – file a complaint for an employment-related rights violation and that this is impartially investigated. If an abuse is found, then the business must remedy it. Crucially, the process needs to be legitimate: migrant workers must be able to trust it. Accountability is a key factor to achieving that.

Remediation must go beyond financial compensation – such as the backdated payment of wages or overtime – to include improved processes to prevent future abuses, and empowering vulnerable groups by facilitating rights like freedom of association. Crucially, migrant workers’ voices need to be part of these remedy processes and their views should be represented in the solutions that are created.

Anti-Slavery International’s business briefing “Migrant workers’ access to remedy” provides an overview of the global context for migrant workers’ access to remedy, a summary of current approaches to grievance mechanisms, learnings from our work in Mauritius, and recommendations to businesses. Our findings show that, contributing to access to remedy, to reduce vulnerability to modern slavery of migrant workers in their supply chains, businesses should:

  • Promote and enable freedom of association for all workers;
  • Explore and support legally binding and enforceable workers’ driven social responsibility agreements;
  • Make sure grievances can be denounced below Tier 1 of supply chains, where migrant workers are often most vulnerable.

When different actors come together real, sustainable solutions can materialise, as our work shows. By taking active decisions to ensure that workers are not abused as a result of their operations, businesses have the power to change systemic structures in favour of workers-centred business models that benefit operations, society and the environment. These models should be designed collaboratively and informed by meaningful engagement with key stakeholders, such as migrant workers, to ensure they fulfil their purpose. Now is the time to act.

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