Media Release26 Jul 2019

Safe migration pathways key to tackling human trafficking, modern slavery, and forced labour

A new report out today examines the connection between migration and modern slavery, and focuses on which migrants are most vulnerable, and in what circumstances, to modern slavery.

Migrants from Central American countries moving towards the United States in hopes of a better life or to escape violence. Photo Credit: ALFREDO ESTRELLA / Contributor via Getty Images.
  • Migrants fleeing conflict and violence, child migrants travelling without family and undocumented migrants are highly vulnerable to human trafficking, modern slavery, and forced labour. 
  • Political support for safe and legal migration pathways is needed because migrants continue to be trafficked or otherwise exploited and abused during transit and upon arrival.  
  • While there are national laws and policies intended to protect migrants from abuse, in reality, significant gaps in coverage and implementation leave large groups of people more vulnerable to abuse than others. These gaps are exploited by unscrupulous criminals for personal gain.
  • There is an urgent need for national governments to recognize the close connection between the aims of achieving safe, orderly and responsible migration and preventing human trafficking, modern slavery, and forced labour.
  • Governments need to close gaps in criminal and labour laws and provide protections for migrants, to ensure vulnerable migrants are protected.

A new report out today examines the connection between migration and modern slavery, and focuses on which migrants are most vulnerable, and in what circumstances, to modern slavery.

Prepared by Minderoo Foundation’s Walk Free initiative and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) for the Alliance 8.7 Action Group on Migration, the report provides recommendations on key steps governments can take to address this risk.

The report confirms certain sub-groups of migrants that are at particular risk. This includes migrants who are fleeing violence and conflict, migrants who have been dislocated from community and family support structures without access to legitimate forms of employment, legal status or social protection, migrants who are moving or working through irregular channels, and migrants who are working in sectors that are out of sight (such as work at sea or in private homes) or in sectors of the economy that are not covered by labour laws.

Child and adolescent migrants are particularly vulnerable, creating the need for governments to offer better protections, such as family reunification schemes. Female and male migrants are vulnerable to abuse but in different ways – with women experiencing higher rates of modern slavery in domestic work, the sex industry and through forced marriage – while male migrants are more likely to be exploited through forced labour in the construction and manufacturing sectors.

The report notes that some government policies could have the effect of increasingly vulnerability of certain groups of migrants. Restrictive migration policies that seek to ban or limit certain forms of migration can have unintended consequences, such as driving risky practices underground or trapping vulnerable people in dangerous situations. 

Migrant workers face risk, through policies in sending and receiving countries. In many countries, recruiters are subject to little or no regulation so they continue to charge migrants high fees, sometimes repayable at high interest rates, simply to connect them with available jobs. Tied visas that give employers undue control over their workers’ living conditions, or that prevent migrants from switching jobs without permission, can create an environment of dependence that can be readily exploited by unscrupulous employers.

“It is vital governments provide meaningful protection for people fleeing repressive regimes, violence and conflict. Research indicates these situations increase migrants’ vulnerability to modern slavery. We call on all governments to create safer migration pathways, provide protection for vulnerable people and bolster the capacity of first responders in crisis situations,” said Jenn Morris, chief executive of Minderoo Foundation’s Walk Free initiative.

“In today’s global economy, the movement of people is inevitable and we have to find ways to achieve migration safely and humanely. This report points to a number of practical steps that governments can take to increase protection of vulnerable migrants, such as ensuring national child protection laws apply to child migrants, closing gaps in labour laws in high risk sectors like domestic work, and prohibiting charging of recruitment fees,” said Fiona David, lead author of the report and Research Chair, Minderoo Foundation.

 “Without action to address the drivers of unsafe migration and to step up protection and assistance to migrants, many migrants will be trafficked and otherwise abused. We need to do the hard work to create safe migration pathways that better reflect the realities of migration and labour markets, as well as balance the needs of national interests and migrant rights. The recently agreed Global Compact for Safe Orderly and Regular Migration provides a roadmap for how to move forward,” said Mathieu Luciano, Head of IOM’s Assistance to Vulnerable Migrants Unit in Geneva.

Funding for the Alliance 8.7 Action Group on Migration was made possible through support provided by the UK government to accelerate Alliance 8.7’s work to eradicate forced labour, modern slavery, human trafficking and child labour. 

The report is available here.