At the beginning of the New Year, we would like to take a moment to reflect on the one that passed. As 2016 was drawing to an end, there seemed to be a widespread consensus that it had been a terrible year.
The war in Syria entered into its fifth year and thousands of people lost their lives, while hundreds of thousands continued trying to flee to safety. As a response to this so-called ‘migrant crisis’, the European Union (EU) struck a deal to return refugees to Turkey and went on to plan similar deals with African nations and Afghanistan, despite the protest of civil society. In India the sudden demonetisation hit poor people the hardest and risks exacerbating poverty and undermining social trust even further. In the Philippines, the newly-elected president encouraged the extrajudicial killings of suspected drug dealers and drug users, with the death toll rising every day. In Latin America, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff was removed from office after a coup, and throughout the continent leftist governments lost popularity. In Europe and the US, xenophobia and right-wing populism continued to rise, culminating in the two events that shook the world and are likely to have the worst implications for 2017 and the coming years: the UK’s vote to leave the EU and the US vote to elect a xenophobic, sexist and climate change-denying president. Although the impacts of these two votes on migration, human and labour rights around the world are yet to be seen, we have few reasons to be hopeful.
As 2016 was nearing its end, one word was dominating political analyses: post-truth. In fact, it had been used so much around the Brexit and Trump votes, that the Oxford Dictionaries selected it as their word of the year. Used especially in reference to politics, the word is defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.
Our little world of anti-trafficking mirrors the larger world of politics and this definition is all too familiar to those of us who’ve been working in the field for many years. In the post-truth politics of anti-trafficking, policy and discourse are shaped by movie stars more than service providers and by sensational media reports more than sound research. When it comes to trafficking, sober reasoning and critical faculties seem to disappear: almost anyone can say almost anything and it will be taken as truth. The more shocking and outrageous it is – the more truthful.
Trafficking (or the more vague but emotionally charged term ‘modern slavery’), we are told, is the second largest form of transnational organised crime, whereby ruthless criminals enslave tens of millions of women, men and children, because there is a high demand for it. Exceptional cases of women and girls abducted by criminal gangs and forced into sexual slavery are presented as the norm. The answer is to create new and more stringent criminal laws, increase penalties and ‘clamp down’ on those organised criminal networks. But the latest UNODC Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, released at the end of 2016, shows that many traffickers come from the same community, and even family, as the victims (i.e. not mafia-like organised crime); 42% of victims were detected within their own country (i.e. not always a transnational crime); trafficking routes follow closely regular migration patterns (i.e. people not abducted against their will). To us this reconfirms that trafficking occurs in the context of migration for labour, whereby opportunistic individuals take advantage of restrictive migration regimes and weak or non-existing labour regulations to take huge profits from other people’s migration and work. Thus an appropriate response would be to establish more regular migration channels and ensure labour protections. But in the post-truth politics of anti-trafficking, ‘clamping down on traffickers’ will somehow improve labour conditions, stringent border controls will ensure a living wage at home, arresting ‘illegal workers’ will save ‘modern slaves’ and criminalising the purchase of sex will open decent work opportunities for women.
Also at the end of 2016, the UN Security Council passed a resolution on human trafficking in the context of armed conflict, linking trafficking to terrorism and suggesting that trafficking can exacerbate conflict. The statement of the European Union further identifies reduction of demand for trafficking as an urgent priority. To be clear, people in conflict are vulnerable to exploitation by opportunistic individuals. But in the post-truth politics of anti-trafficking, the UN Security Council, unable to resolve the Syrian conflict or even ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid, resolves unanimously to address trafficking – not the conflict. And the EU tells us that the ‘demand for trafficking’ in the context of conflict needs to be reduced – not the conflict itself – as if a ‘demand for trafficking’ created or sustains the Syrian conflict. Meanwhile the EU’s claim that it is honouring its responsibilities to refugees is woefully undermined by the its treatment of refugees, which was responsible for nearly 5000 deaths at sea in 2016 and the very vulnerability to trafficking that the EU is claiming to want to address…
Trafficking discourse has become completely depoliticised, disconnected from issues of migration, labour and rights. The calls for ‘clamping down’ on traffickers and eradicating ‘modern slavery’ make no mention of the role of states or corporations with a vested interest in sustaining human exploitation. In fact, in the post-truth politics of anti-trafficking, corporations are cast as an ‘invaluable partner’ in eliminating the very conditions that have allowed them to acquire and increase their obscene wealth.
Dear friends, it is clear that in the post-truth politics of anti-trafficking, a sober, critical voice is needed more than ever. We need to challenge governments and international institutions to rethink their anti-trafficking, migration and labour policies. We also need to challenge the media and our friends in the NGO community about the use and abuse of sensationalistic claims and disempowering stories. We need to shift the discourse away from the deviant practices of individuals and groups and focus on the broader socio-economic and political environment that encourages and sustains exploitation. We need to support our sisters and brothers across the globe struggling for equality and justice in the face of xenophobia, exploitation and neoliberalism.
These are daunting tasks but we are not alone. We draw, and will continue to draw, immense inspiration and knowledge from our members who provide direct assistance to trafficked persons and migrant workers. In 2016 we worked with members and partners in Bolivia, Colombia and Guatemala to review the implementation of anti-trafficking measures in their countries and hold their governments accountable. We supported journalists from South Asia to write articles about female labour migration in a rights-based, strength-affirming way. We also supported community leaders in South Asia to bring the issue of safe migration in their work with women in rural communities. We built and strengthened alliances with women’s, migrants’, labour and human rights organisations to ensure that trafficked persons can access justice more effectively. We reaffirmed our support for workers in the formal and informal economy, for domestic workers, sex workers and migrants. Much of this work will continue in 2017. With the help of our allies in the academic community, we published two issues of the Anti-Trafficking Review, looking at the challenges and (limited) successes of trafficking prosecutions and at the popular representations of trafficking and its victims that persist in public and policy discourse. This year the ATR will explore the evidence that is used to inform anti-trafficking policy and practice and the lessons that history might hold for present-day anti-trafficking activism. We are also very excited about a new partnership with Beyond Trafficking and Slavery to organise conceptual clarity workshops for members, partners and the anti-trafficking community.
Challenging the post-truth politics of anti-trafficking is not easy but we are not giving up; we will continue, with the help of our members and allies, as we have done in the past 22 years.
We wish you a peaceful, happy and successful 2017!
Access to justice remains a significantly underserved right for migrant workers. Very few migrant workers, whether in countries of work or upon returning home are able to access sufficient support services, legal aid, or justice institutions to remedy the violations they experience. To understand and respond to this gap, in November, the GAATW-IS organised a civil society consultation on rights and justice in the context of labour migration.
We welcomed over 50 participants including migrant, labour and anti-trafficking organisations providing direct services and legal support, migrant rights networks, trade unionists, donor partners, academics, and other stakeholders from South and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the United States. Over the course of three days, we articulated a collective vision of ‘justice’, discussed challenges and opportunities to accessing justice, and the steps that civil society, governments, and policy makers need to take to ensure transformative change for migrant workers.
Throughout the consultation, participants returned to a crucial point: in a world where neoliberal economic policy, conflict, and a weakening labour rights movement is driving migration and the increasing informalisation and precarity of labour, the space for migrants and migrant workers to assert their rights is becoming increasingly small. This consultation provided a rare opportunity for NGOs working in both countries of origin and destination to meet together in person to voice and discuss the challenges facing migrant workers and to share information on how to collaborate and, ultimately, make this space larger. We reiterated that at the heart of our conversations are the people who risk their lives for their rights to livelihood, dignity and safe passage. Participants acknowledged that we stand at a critical juncture, historically, in the political discourse around the rights of migrants, and therefore we must act as one to take advantage of this opportunity to influence global policy and political trends.
In December GAATW took part in the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD), held in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The GFMD is an annual meeting to discuss migration and development issues, held since 2007. While the meeting formally refers to a meeting between governments, civil society has, over the years, carved out a role in both the forum itself, and by holding independent meetings prior to and in protest against the exclusionary government process.
GAATW-IS, along with members, partners and allied migrant rights networks from across the globe met to discuss trends in migration and migration policy, challenges faced by migrants, and to articulate a vision of justice for migrants and refugees. The fact that it was organised in Bangladesh, a country of origin for many migrant workers, meant that labour rights were central to the civil society discussions held over the course of five days leading up to the government-only forum. GAATW organised two panel discussions on access to justice for migrant workers. At the first one we heard from our members and partners OKUP (Bangladesh), LSCW (Cambodia), and Tamkeen (Jordan), about the challenges and opportunities in supporting migrant workers’ rights. Another panel at Asia Civil Society Day saw partner networks Migrant Forum in Asia (William Gois) and WOREC Nepal (Renu Adhikari) join trade union organiser Nazma Akhter and returnee migrant worker and organiser Sheikh Rumana discuss the challenges migrant workers face in the context of changing social and political contexts in the region.
Central to the discussions among civil society were the emerging mechanisms around the governance of migration, especially the Global Compacts on Migration and on Refugees - international mechanisms which will be negotiated and agreed upon by the end of 2018. The final form of the compacts is not yet set in stone and there were discussions about whether or not an eventual Compact would more closely resemble a binding convention, a voluntary initiative, or a hybrid, combining both binding and non-binding elements, and which of these forms would best serve migrant rights.
GAATW is hoping to continue our advocacy towards the Global Compact Processes through involvement in regional level consultations and at the next GFMD to be held in June in Germany. We will be in touch with members about these opportunities soon.
In October, GAATW European Board Member Evelyn Probst, as well as representatives of several other member organisations, participated in the 8th Session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (UNTOC) took place in October 2016 in Vienna, Austria. The aim of the Conference is to improve the capacity of States Parties to combat transnational organised crime and to promote and review the implementation of this Convention.
Since the adoption and ratifications of the Convention and its protocols GAATW has lobbied for the development and establishment of a mechanism that would review its implementation by member states and make them accountable, in particular to trafficked persons. Although a few years ago the momentum for such a mechanism seemed to have faded away, in 2015 UNODC convened the first Open-ended Intergovernmental Meeting to Explore All Options Regarding an Appropriate and Effective Review Mechanism for UNTOC and the Protocols thereto and a second one in 2016. At this 8th session states agreed on a draft resolution to establish the review mechanism. While the procedures for the mechanism will be developed in the next two years, it is concerning that at the moment the resolution mentions civil society only once – to be consulted by governments, ‘where appropriate’. The involvement of civil society in the review mechanism is essential to ensuring the accountability of states and the representation of trafficked persons’ interests. In Europe, the monitoring body of the Council of Europe Convention – GRETA – make extensive use of civil society contributions and civil society has been highly appreciative of the review process. On the positive side, the mechanism will not rank countries and will make use of existing national and regional mechanisms. At the meeting GAATW, together with several members and other NGOs, read a statement stressing the need for a meaningful participation of NGOs in both the development of the mechanism and the review process. We will follow the process closely and try to influence states to ensure the meaningful participation of civil society.
During the Conference we also organised a side event to present the 6th issue of the Anti-Trafficking Review ‘Prosecuting Human Trafficking’. The participants in the panel were the issue guest editor Anne Gallagher and three of the authors – the Dutch National Rapporteur on Trafficking Corinne Dettmeijer, as well as Biljana Meshkovska and Inga Thiemann, while Evelyn Probst moderated. The authors presented their articles, focusing on different aspects of trafficking prosecutions, while Evelyn Probst and Anne Gallagher moderated the discussion that followed.
In September UN Women published a call for submissions to a ‘Consultation seeking views on UN Women approach to sex work, the sex trade and prostitution’, which will assist the development of a UN Women position on the issue.
Reaffirming our support for the rights of sex workers and the need for sex workers to be consulted in matters affecting their lives, we submitted a response, co-signed by 24 of our members. In it, we stress the need for a clear distinction between sex work and trafficking and that the decriminalisation of sex work is the only policy that has the potential to improve the position of sex workers and reduce violence and coercion, including trafficking, in the sex industry. We also joined a submission prepared by CREA and the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) and co-signed by 190 sex workers rights, women’s rights and human rights organisations, which outlines five basic principles that UN Women should follow in order to develop a policy that is truly grounded in human rights.
Prior to the submissions deadline, NSWP expressed concerns about the consultation process and launched a petition, urging UN Women to meaningfully consult with sex workers in the development of their policy. According to NSWP, the process ‘is biased towards those with privilege and will exclude the majority of sex workers in the global south who have limited access to the Internet; most of whom are not literate in the colonialist languages of the United Nations and are not familiar with UN treaties and documents that guide UN Women, and around which their consultation is framed.’
The UN Women policy is expected to be finalised and published later in 2017.
In 2016 we conducted research among Cambodian migrant workers exploited in Thailand with the aim of understanding the obstacles they face in claiming their rights and accessing justice and how service providers can support them more effectively (see more about the research in the October e-bulletin). To share some of the findings of the research and compare them with other countries, on 4 November we hosted a forum on building strategic alliances for access to justice for migrant workers. We were joined by Vichuta Ly from our Cambodian member LSCW, Koreeyor Manuchae from the Migrant Working Group Thailand, Prema Arasan from Tenaganita (Malaysia), and Shakirul Islam from OKUP (Bangladesh) for an open discussion about the challenges we face as advocates and service providers in addressing some of the barriers for migrant workers accessing justice. We also used this space to focus on best practices and share positive experiences from our work.
In December we organised a meeting with groups from Thailand and Cambodia where we presented the findings from our report, which will be published in February, and discussed the concrete actions to be planned for 2017 with an emphasis on cross-border cooperation to better support Cambodian migrant workers. A first regional meeting will take place in February, where both Thai and Cambodian organisations will finalise a consolidated outreach document, coordinate advocacy, and discuss case referral, self-organising and cross-border network mapping, among others.
On 25 October GAATW-IS co-hosted a panel discussion ‘A Rights-Based Approach to Anti-Trafficking: Lessons from Asia and Europe’, together with the Asian Research Centre for Migration at Chulalongkorn University, organised by the Asia-Europe Foundation. The aim was to share best practices and identify emerging trends in Asia and Europe. The panel included presentations by: Anne Gallagher – on the need to include human rights in anti-trafficking work and the progress made since the 1990s; Per-Anders Sunesson (Swedish Ambassador at Large for Combatting Trafficking in Persons) – on the European and Swedish experience in combating human trafficking; Storm Tiv (GAATW Programme Officer Southeast Asia) – on the GAATW research concerning access to justice for Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand; Emily Cholette (IOM X) – on the use of new communication tools as prevention of trafficking; and Klara Skrivankova (Anti-Slavery International) – on new and emerging trends in human trafficking in the UK. The panel was moderated by Dr Ratchada Jayagupta from the Asian Research Centre for Migration. The presentations were followed by a short discussion/Q&A.
In October, La Strada International and 32 other GAATW members and partners launched the campaign ‘Justice at Last – Access to compensation for trafficked persons’ to raise awareness about the rights of trafficked persons to claim and receive compensation.
Although compensation is a guaranteed right by the Council of Europe Convention and the EU Directive, in practice it remains underutilised. There are many obstacles that prevent trafficked persons from seeking and obtaining compensation. There is lack of awareness among the police and judicial system and criminal and civil proceedings are often lengthy and costly. Traffickers are not found, not prosecuted, or have moved their assets to avoid seizure and confiscation. The irregular status of a person, or their work in the sex industry, is another obstacle. Even when trafficked persons are awarded a compensation claim, they are usually responsible for enforcing the compensation order themselves.
The NGOs urged European governments to implement ten action points that will remove obstacles and improve access to compensation.
In November GAATW-IS, Fundacion La Paz (Bolivia), Corporación Espacios de Mujer (Colombia) and ECPAT Guatemala presented the findings of the report ‘Critical Assessment of the Implementation of Anti-Trafficking Legislation in Bolivia, Colombia and Guatemala’. The aim of the report is to encourage governments in the three countries to improve the implementation of anti-trafficking laws and policies to better respond to the needs of trafficked persons. The report highlights (1) the existing gaps between what the anti-trafficking legislation states and the actual services provided by government agencies, and (2) concrete recommendations for the three governments to take forward.
In October our Singaporean member Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) published to reports focusing on different aspects of access to justice for migrant workers in Singapore.
‘Diluted Justice: Protection and Redress for Trafficked Fishermen in Asia’, a joint research by TWC2 and Dr Sallie Yea, revealed that trafficked fishermen face insurmountable barriers to access legal and economic justice and protection. These barriers are caused by gaps in victim identification and assistance and lack of political will on the part of authorities to investigate the issue and prosecute the criminals. The research focused on the trafficking of fishermen involving Singaporean, Taiwanese, Filipino, Cambodian and Indonesian actors working in collusion to deploy men into hyper-exploitative working situations on Taiwanese fishing vessels. It involved interviews conducted with fishermen victims, some of whom were also witnesses in criminal justice proceedings and plaintiffs in civil compensation cases, their family members and key informants from non-governmental NGOs and international organisations in Singapore, Cambodia, the Philippines and Indonesia. In addition, documentary evidence shared by interviewees was also produced to support the key arguments and news reports on recent high profile cases of trafficked fishermen were also cited to corroborate findings. The report ends with recommendations to governments in the region, as well as specific recommendations for the governments of Singapore and the Philippines.
‘The Price of a Job’ takes a detailed look at recruitment costs borne by female domestic workers in Singapore. Based on a survey of 232 workers conducted in early 2016, the study reveals how much they paid, to whom, and how many months’ of salary deductions these payments represented. It also gathered their opinions as to what they think would be a fair rate — a question seldom asked in any other research — and takes a stab at explaining why they hold the opinions they do. The study concludes that while the curbs on recruitment costs attempted by the Singapore government and governments of origin countries have not fully achieved their professed goals, ‘they have had a positive impact in bringing down the number of months that it takes workers to pay off their recruitment costs.’ However, the study also reveals that other issues, such as training fees and transfer fees for a placement with an employer, are not working out.
Since 2014, La Strada Czech Republic, LEFÖ (Austria) and Ban Ying (Germany) have been implementing the project ‘Empowerment of Migrant Women at Risk of Exploitation, Trafficking or Enslavement’. The project built on the extensive experience of the partners in various forms of outreach work, awareness-raising campaigns and advocacy activities and focused on three complementary parts of how to support the target group. Because migrant women are isolated from common awareness-raising measures, such as media or social networks, the project aimed to find alternative ways of informing them about their rights and ways of resolving abusive situations, as well as to offer them assistance through specialised services. Firstly, possibilities of alternative outreach work were tested. For example, in Austria, LEFÖ published a brochure informing migrant women of their rights and where to seek assistance; in the Czech Republic, La Strada developed a banner, which was translated in six languages and promoted on Facebook and Google. Secondly, the tailored assistance services for migrant women were defined and implemented and thirdly, after the evaluation of the legislation, a strategy for further advocacy for the rights of migrant women was prepared.
On 14 December Colectivo Hetaira and AFEMTRAS (Agrupación Feminista de Trabajadoras del sexo/Feminist Association of Sex Workers) organised a ‘cacerolada’ (a protest rally during which the participants bang pots and pans) in front of Madrid town hall. The aim of the action was 1) to demand an institutional answer about the police abuse experienced by street-based sex workers who work in Villaverde industrial park, 2) to demand the abolishment of the Civil Security Law (popularly known as ‘gag order’) which illegalises street prostitution, and 3) to remind the current (left-wing) mayor of Madrid that it’s about time to begin to develop a participative process to protect sex workers’ human rights.
To commemorate 17 December – International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers - and to reinforce the above-mentioned demands Hetaira and AFEMTRAS organised a panel discussion during which several speakers talked about the necessity of a radical change in Madrid’s sex work politics and of fighting the stigma and discrimination against sex workers. Recordings from the panel discussions are available on Hetaira’s YouTube channel.
GAATW e-bulletin is sent out to all member organisations of the Alliance as well as to many of its friends and sister NGOs worldwide.
The e-bulletin is published every three months. A Spanish version goes out to REDLAC members a few days after the English version. Sometimes additional follow-up information and/or reminders are also sent via email to member organisations.
Primarily a tool for communication between the International Secretariat and the Alliance members, the e-bulletin aims to cover a broad range of topics although trafficking-related issues remain its special focus. The bulletin does not have a rigid format; while some issues may contain news clips others may have an opinion piece or a report. We also use this e-bulletin to inform members about upcoming events and provide regular updates about the Secretariat.
2010 GAATW Advocacy Update
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