On this International Migrants Day, Cindy Berman, ETI's Head of Modern Slavery, reflects on both the statistics and the stories
- The UN estimates that 270 million people live outside the country where they were born
- 90% are economic migrants and the rest mostly refugees
- That makes up 3.5% of the world’s population.
There were approximately 164 million migrant workers globally in 2017, according to the ILO.
41.6% of them are women and 8% are between 15 and 24 years old.
55% of migrants, the vast majority from the global south, end up in North America and Europe and just over 40% are in the Arab States.
Migrants around the world tend to be more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Often their visas are tied to their employers, they are treated differently to local workers, don’t have the same rights at work, and are not able to join or form a trade union.
Many workers are in debt bondage due to exorbitant recruitment fees paid to agents get their jobs. It may take 18 months of their wages just to repay their debt before they could be earning a wage that can help support their family back home.
Focus on: Malaysia
Malaysia has a huge manufacturing sector, making up a sizeable share of its exports and 73% of its GDP. Foreign migrant workers make up 25% of the workforce. The estimated number of foreign migrant workers in Malaysia varies from 1.8 to 5.5 million because a large number have "irregular" status. These workers are scared, don’t know who to trust, don’t speak the local language, do not want to risk losing their job or being penalised if they speak out.
ETI has commissioned a report, Human rights due diligence in Malaysia’s manufacturing sector, aimed at organisations working in, sourcing from or monitoring the situation of migrant workers in Malaysia.
The report identifies the key risks and issues for workers in relation to labour standards, and rates them as high, medium, or low risk.
The ETI report highlights forced labour, unsafe and unhygienic working conditions, low wages, excessive working hours, lack of access to freedom of association that migrant workers are subjected to in Malaysia. These are compounded by national security and migration policy that actually reinforces or exacerbates migrants’ vulnerability to exploitative employment practices.
This report lays the groundwork for ETI’s Access to Remedy Programme, a two-year programme funded by the UK Home Office. We’ve designed the programme to get company commitment and accountability on migrant workers’ rights at work.
New Access to Remedy Principles for Migrant Workers are under consultation and the programme will road test their application in the rubber manufacturing industry in Malaysia. It will also pilot a technology platform that empowers migrant workers to understand their rights at work, communicate with one another, get advice and support, and find safe and trusted ways to raise grievances directly with their employers.
For more information about the programme, please contact Owain Johnstone.