Turning the page: Our plans to support the protection of migrant workers in 2021

Date: Jan 21, 2021

The events of 2020 reaffirmed how important the contributions of migrant workers are to communities and economies around the globe. Migrant workers, especially women, have been at the forefront of responses to the pandemic in the health and care sector (OECD). They have also helped sustain global supply chains and essential sectors, such as agriculture, sales and logistics (IOM). 

Over two years after the adoption of the UN Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, COVID-19 has shown that migrant workers remain amongst the most vulnerable (ILO, UNDP) and were often the first to lose their employment and social protections while having their human and labour rights violated. In turn, the virus spread quickly among migrant worker populations, at dormitories and workplaces, especially when access to health services and adequate information was limited (IHRB, OECD). Migrants have suffered from stigmatization and marginalization in the wake of the pandemic. Border closures and travel restrictions at an unprecedented scale have drastically reduced international labour migration (IOM). Women migrant workers were more likely to be negatively impacted  (UN Women, IOM). These factors diminish the development of migrant communities through loss of income, reduced remittances and the inability to service debts. The pandemic also challenges businesses facing labour shortages and economies relying on migrant workers. Risks of human trafficking and irregular migration will likely increase when borders reopen again (IOM, OHCHR). 

We would like to thank all policymakers, civil society organizations, businesses and partners who have recognized the unique role and vulnerabilities of migrants during this crisis and worked tirelessly to safeguard the rights of migrant workers. IOM has mobilized its global workforce to organize broad-level support to governments and migrant communities in their response to COVID-19. IOM’s CREST team has assisted its partners from the private sector (e.g. adidas, Fast Retailing, Amazon)  in fulfilling their duty of care through sharing regular information updates, guidelines, tools and surveys.
While restrictions of global mobility will last during 2021, the beginning of this new year presents an opportunity towards rebuilding a safe and fair labour migration system. Here is an overview of the priority topics of IOM’s CREST initiative in 2021:

We will encourage our partners from private sector, including recruiters, employers and multinational companies to have rights holders, including migrant workers at the centre of their responsible business conduct efforts. Migrant workers must be included in corporate policy development, action planning, trainings, monitoring and reporting if companies want to truly respect migrant workers’ rights. While achieving ethical recruitment and the Employer Pays Principle, are still in focus, there is also a need for business to address other challenges facing migrant workers, such as the specific needs of women migrant workers, countering xenophobia and discrimination and supporting migrant worker’s equitable access to COVID-19 vaccinations (WHO, IOM).  

Through our partnership with the Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA), we will be guided by the  experiences of migrant communities that MFA’s member organizations observe on the ground. We strongly support MFA’s appeal to establish an “Urgent Justice Mechanism” that addresses the plight of migrant workers whose wages have been unjustly withheld by employers. Concretely, we will be supporting a regional dialogue to explore how collaboration and partnerships between civil society and the private sectors can look to the benefit of all involved parties. 

We will make our CREST tools and resources openly available to our stakeholders. These tools target all types of businesses dealing with labour migration and have been created and tested with our partners in various sectors and migration corridors. It will include a labour supply chain mapping methodology, migrant workers guidelines, due diligence tools for employers and recruiters and remediation guidance. We will also continue piloting innovative solutions to building capacity of labour recruiters to implement ethical recruitment, improving transparency in supply chains and the empowerment of migrant workers.   

We will further examine the link between climate change and migration in key labour migration corridors leading to Thailand and Malaysia (IHRB Priority Topics for 2021). Informed by our scoping study with the Stockholm Environment Institute, this will entail an in-depth research with migrant workers within agricultural sectors to understand how their migration journeys are shaped by environmental and climate factors and if this creates specific human rights risks to migrant communities. This research project will also seek to identify practical implications and specific recommendations in the context of the business and human rights agenda. 

We are looking forward to continuing our support to policy dialogue and more collective approaches across sectors and migration corridors to strengthen the protection of migrant workers’ rights. The Colombo Process and IOM’s Global Policy Network for Ethical Recruitment are two important multilateral initiatives, where we hope that our partners from civil society and the businesses sector can participate as advocates for positive change. Recognizing the importance of concrete implementation, we remain committed to supporting more collective approaches and pilots to promote safe and fair labour migration.  

We look forward to working with you through 2021. For follow up, questions and clarifications, please write to [email protected].

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