28 May 2016
The International Secretariat of the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women welcomes Amnesty International’s ‘Policy on State Obligations to Respect, Protect and Fulfil the Human Rights of Sex Workers’, developed after two years of in-depth research and consultations with sex workers and various other stakeholders.
GAATW was launched over twenty years ago in order to challenge the dominant discourse on trafficking as occurring exclusively in the sex industry and of the women in the sex industry as pitiful victims of exploitation. As feminists, we have stood in solidarity with women in both the formal and informal economy, including the sex industry, and have maintained that even in the most difficult situations, women demonstrate extraordinary power, agency and resilience. Sex workers’ struggle for rights is the same struggle as that of women, migrants and workers around the world.
Amnesty’s policy acknowledges this struggle, as well as the multiple rights violations that sex workers experience, often not by traffickers or clients, but by states and, unfortunately, all too often in the name of combatting human trafficking. We, too, have documented these rights violations extensively, often in partnership with sex workers organisations, and have repeatedly stated that the fight against human trafficking should not result in ‘collateral damage’. But as the Amnesty research on sex work in Norway, Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea and Argentina points out, nothing has changed over the past decade and sex workers still face multiple discriminations and denial of many of their human rights.
We are pleased that Amnesty recognises GAATW, along with our friends from La Strada International and the Freedom Network USA, as anti-trafficking organisations that stand up for sex workers’ rights. Sex workers have the most interest in a clean and safe industry, free from coercion and exploitation. Sex workers and their clients are uniquely positioned to detect cases of exploitation and human trafficking. The work of our members and allies in the sex workers rights movement is a testimony to that. But the criminalised status of sex workers or clients in many countries means that they would implicate themselves if they report cases of abuse. Indeed, as Amnesty points out, the decriminalisation of sex work can have a positive impact on the fight against human trafficking and this needs to be recognised by governments and other anti-trafficking stakeholders.
We hope that Amnesty’s policy will give sex workers and their organisations new impetus to demand their rights from their governments and that the slogan ‘nothing about us without us’ will finally become reality.
Stringent border control has often been used as a measure to stop human trafficking and members of the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) have raised their voices against such misguided, ineffective and discriminatory measures.
Today, on International Women’s Day, GAATW is calling for an end to restrictions placed on migration of women domestic workers in some parts of the world! These bans have been justified as a way to prevent trafficking, exploitation and abuse. Not surprisingly, such policies have made women vulnerable to abuse rather than making their migration safe. Instead, states need to empower women to exercise their rights by focusing on non-discrimination, access to education and training, protection of their citizens abroad and creation of more safe and legal migration opportunities.
Since the early 2000s, with an increase in women’s migration and the expansion of the care industry, there has been an increase in reports of the exploitation and abuse of South Asian women working in the Gulf States. As a response to such reports, many South Asian countries have sought to prevent trafficking and exploitation through partial or total bans on women’s migration, especially for ‘low-skilled’ work. These bans have done little to protect women and have, at times, actually made women’s situation even worse.
In 2015 GAATW and the ILO published a joint study, exploring the effects of different bans on women’s migration for domestic work in place in Nepal. The study found that the bans limit women’s economic opportunities in their most productive years and prevent them from supporting themselves and their families. They also placed women at greater risk of abuse during their journey, and gave them less control over their migration experience. These bans do not address the motives that prompt women to migrate, such as lack of income-generating opportunities at home, the social pressure to migrate or the desire to explore the world. Second, they push women to seek irregular migration channels through the help of smugglers and traffickers, thus making them more vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and debt bondage. Third, a ban on migration means that women miss out on the same skills training, pre-departure training and knowledge of their human and labour rights, as the migrants who travel through the state-approved recruitment agencies.
Bans on women domestic workers’ migration are also a form of discrimination and contravene states’ obligations under international treaties. Most Asian countries have signed and ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which obligates States to take steps to eliminate discrimination against women on the basis of gender and to realise women’s rights through equal access and opportunities. CEDAW also has specific provisions related to non-discrimination in work, including the right to equal employment opportunities and selection criteria for work. The Convention specifically calls on origin countries to ensure the lifting of discriminatory bans or restrictions on migration ‘on the basis of age, marital status, pregnancy or maternity status. They should lift restrictions that require women to get permission from their spouse or male guardian to obtain a passport or to travel.’1
Based on GAATW’s decades-long work in supporting and listening to migrant women workers, today, on International Women’s Day, we call on concerned countries of origin to:
Reject policies on restrictions and lift any existing restrictions on women domestic workers’ migration. Migration can be a positive experience in whole or in part, and may enable women to achieve goals they would not be able to achieve in their home country. Banning women domestic workers from migrating to protect them from harm is a disproportionate response to the challenges women face and does not recognise their strong impetus to migrate, nor the rights of all people to leave their own country.
Ensure the availability and accessibility of skills training before departure. Skills and language training will help women better understand what will be required of them and communicate with their employers in the destination country, the authorities and social service providers in case of need, and facilitate access to justice to ensure their rights. Skills training centres should be available not only in the capital city, where women have to incur additional costs for travel and accommodation, but also throughout the country.
Ensure that embassies in the countries of destination have trained female officers, or officers trained in the specific challenges faced by women. Where appropriate, more missions and embassies in destination countries should be opened.
Open migration channels to more countries. Migration to countries with a better track record of protecting the rights of migrants may lead to more positive experiences. South Asian nations need to sign bilateral agreements with destination countries that would guarantee a certain wage and the right to annual leave.
Further, we call on all countries of destination to:
Ensure that migrant domestic workers have the right to organise, join trade unions or form their own trade unions.
Take all measures so that migrant domestic and other workers can effectively access justice and uphold their rights.
The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) is a network of over 100 NGOs across the globe, who provide assistance to women, migrants and trafficked persons and promote their human rights, including the right to migrate abroad and be protected from violence and abuse. GAATW opposes any anti-trafficking measures which adversely affect the human rights and freedom of movement of people.
1CEDAW General recommendation 26
Anti-Trafficking Review (ATR) Issue 5 'Forced Labor and Human Trafficking', guestedited by Nicola Piper and Marie Segrave, was presented and launched at the Fourth Latin-American Anti-Trafficking International Conference held in La Paz, Bolivia, from the 14 to 16 October. Andrea Querol, GAATW board member and executive director of the Peruvian member organisation CHS Alternativo, presented the journal and exemplified the issue with a case of labour exploitation in Peru related to the Ashaninka peoples. She also emphasised the importance of having conceptual clarity when talking about trafficking and how terminology affects political and legal responses.
Mike Dottridge, previous ATR guest editor and current member the Board of the Trustees of the UN Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, shared specific details about ATR issue 5 and explained the importance of tackling human trafficking from a forced labor framework. With this launch, GAATW aimed to increase Latin-American voices in coming ATR issues.
The call for papers for the next issue, 'Trafficking Representations', is open until 8 January 2016.
EMBARGOED UNTIL: 29 September 2015
A significant new protocol on forced labour was agreed last year, which promised to strengthen national laws and actions on protection of workers’ rights. However, many regressive policies related to migration and labour persist, according to the latest issue of the Anti-Trafficking Review, published by the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW).
The new issue of the Anti-Trafficking Review examines how the global community is addressing forced labour and trafficking. The journal questions whether recent efforts have done enough to stop exploitation at work.
“In 2014, governments across the globe committed to combat forced labour through a new international agreement, the International Labour Organisation Forced Labour Protocol,” says Bandana Pattanaik, GAATW’s International Coordinator, “There has been some progress in national policies and union activities, but in general governments have prioritised stemming migration over protection of workers’ rights.”
The International Labour Organisation estimates that there are almost 21 million people in the world today from whom forced labour is exacted. Authors of the journal analyse responses to this form of exploitation, including unions championing the protection of migrants’ labour rights, and governments enacting supply chain disclosure laws (for example in Brazil and the United States of America).
Many of the journal issue’s authors describe how regressive policies, such as the surprisingly widespread Kafala system of ‘tied’ visas for lower paid workers, are eroding these rights. This year, the United Kingdom affirmed a Kafala-type system for domestic workers. The new UK Modern Slavery Act 2015 retains the regressive visa system, which restricts domestic workers from changing employers or seeing redress when things go wrong.
Other authors look at forced labour and trafficking within the context of migration. Experts Hannah Lewis and Louise Waite for example stress that refugee and asylum-seeking situations are putting people in ‘hyper precarious’ situations and more at risk of exploitation. They argue that greater recognition of workers’ rights, particularly migrant workers, would reduce incidences of forced labour and human trafficking.
“Protecting rights of workers and providing them with avenues to demand a fair wage and decent working conditions, holding employers accountable, and advocating for systemic changes may help us address a range of exploitations including trafficking and forced labour,” said Pattanaik.
Notes to editors:
• Interviews are available with:
• The journal includes case studies from Brazil, Italy, India, Malaysia Thailand, USA, UK. If you are interested in interviewing any of the authors of these particular case studies please let us know.
• To arrange interviews or for an embargoed copy of the journal, please contact:
Jasmin Qureshi, Associate Editor, Anti-Trafficking Review, Bangkok, Thailand
• The journal will be freely available at www.antitraffickingreview.org on 29 September 2015.
• GAATW launched its peer-reviewed journal, the Anti-Trafficking Review, in 2012 to promote quality and critical research into trafficking, and ‘anti-trafficking’. The open-access journal explores the issue of trafficking in a broader context including gender analyses and intersections with women’s rights, labour rights and migrant rights. It offers a space for dialogue, debate, critique and discussion of best practice for academics and practitioners seeking to communicate new ideas and findings.
• The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) is a non-profit organisation that works to protect and uphold the human rights of migrating and trafficked women around the world. Representing a global network of more than 120 non-governmental organisations, we focus on the issues of migration, labour and human trafficking, with a special emphasis on women. Our activities involve research, communications and advocacy in order to hold governments accountable, increase access to justice for migrating and trafficked women and further the global debate on the issues (www.gaatw.org / @GAATW_IS).
Tuesday, 29 September, 18:00-20:00
Valley Room, Shangri-La Hotel, Bangkok
The new issue of GAATW’s journal the Anti-Trafficking Review looks at ‘Forced Labour and Human Trafficking’.
Authors in this issue - both academics and practitioners - review how the global community is addressing forced labour and trafficking. In 2014, governments across the globe committed to combat forced labour through a new international agreement, the ILO Forced Labour Protocol. But are recent efforts enough?
With case studies from diverse regions and countries including Southeast Asia, Brazil, India, Italy, the United Kingdom and United States of America, this issue features a mix of academic articles, a new ‘policy and practice’ section, as well as short debate pieces which respond to the question: Should we distinguish between forced labour, trafficking and slavery?
The Review and all articles will be freely available online after 29 September at www.antitraffickingreview.org.
We are pleased to screen a new film ‘I am Not Here’, which tells the stories of three undocumented migrant domestic workers in three cities around the world.
Migrant domestic workers in an irregular situation are unseen and unheard. They work behind closed doors, at risk of exploitation by their employers or by others, but afraid or unable to complain to the authorities. They have no papers. Their stories are untold.
For more information about the event, please see the flyer.