Why do so many interventions to stop human trafficking fail?
Because politicians are less interested in adopting policies that challenge current power relationships.
This is what Igor Bosc from the ILO South Asia and Country Office for India argues in a new opinion piece in Open Democracy. As Chief Technical Advisor for the Work in Freedom Program, he has reviewed policies, laws, and practices surrounding human trafficking and labor migration with policy makers in the region.
And he’s found that many are not enthusiastic about addressing deeper structural problems that ultimately lead to human trafficking.
So far, we have found that policy makers show greater interest in tackling human trafficking and forced labour when doing so does not disrupt power relationships in which they have a direct stake. For example, policy makers in countries or cities of destination tend to support information campaigns designed to educate migrant workers about risks.
This is especially true when the campaigns target prospective migrants before they leave their countries of origin. They have also supported prosecution efforts targeting labour recruitment intermediaries in countries or districts of origin.
However, policy makers proved more circumspect when it came to implementing labour laws in countries of destination, even where systemic labour abuses were well documented.
Their resistance became more pronounced when implementation would affect the balance of power between employer and migrant worker, or contractor and migrant worker (e.g. support to freedom of association or collective bargaining, embodied in ILO Conventions Nos. 87 and 98, respectively).
Likewise, policy makers in countries, states, or districts of origin regularly demonstrated concern for the abusive conditions faced by migrant workers in the countries of destination. When it came to addressing the reasons why migrants were leaving their homes, or regulating large-scale, formalised migrant facilitators, they were less enthusiastic.
In other words, policy makers shifted responsibilities to other parties.
On top of this, a paper from the ILO in 2017 noted that anti-trafficking policies tended to focus too heavily on “educating migrants and holding recruiters accountable while glossing over working and living conditions.”
Focusing more on policies pertaining to working conditions is more important, concluded the ILO, because workers often can’t mitigate all of the risks in labor migration and because labor recruiters are not always to blame for poor work conditions.
For Bosc, “livelihood, labor, and mobility rights can only effectively address forced labour when the policies implementing them disrupt prevailing power dynamics and improve working conditions, income levels, rest time, and above all the dignity of workers and their families.”
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