World Day against Trafficking in Persons 2019

Better labour migration governance can reduce forced labour, bolster economic development

On World Day against Trafficking in Persons (30 July), the International Labour Organization (ILO) highlights the link between labour migration, debt bondage and human trafficking, and calls for continued efforts to improve labour migration governance and reduce exploitation.

Press release | 29 July 2019
HANOI (ILO News) – Although labour migration can have a positive impact on individuals, their communities, countries of origin and destination, Vietnamese migrant workers are still vulnerable to exploitation, including forced labour and human trafficking. In part, this is due to high migration costs and challenges in implementing protection measures.

On World Day against Trafficking in Persons (30 July), the International Labour Organization (ILO) highlights the link between labour migration, debt bondage and human trafficking, and calls for continued efforts to improve labour migration governance and reduce exploitation.

The number of Vietnamese workers going abroad for work is consistently rising. According to official statistics of the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, in the 2007-17 period, over 1 million workers migrated abroad for work, with an average of 93,000 people moving to another country each year. About one third were women, and the proportion of women migrant workers is growing. These numbers only indicate part of the total number of Vietnamese migrant workers, as they do not capture those who have migrated irregularly.

Vietnamese migrant workers mainly work in construction, manufacturing, domestic work, care roles, agriculture and fishing industries, which often require few formal qualifications. Among them, domestic workers and fishers are considered among the most vulnerable, due to the isolation of their workplaces, and often, the lack of adequate legal protection.

“There is a governance challenge to ensure decent work for migrant workers, especially in countries where their labour rights are not adequately protected in law,” said ILO Viet Nam Director Chang-Hee Lee.

In many cases, Vietnamese migrant workers face challenges accessing their rights at work. Debts from costs and excessive migration fees can be a disincentive to leaving an exploitative or violent workplace. Conversely, costs and high fees can prompt migrant workers to seek higher paid jobs while in the country of destination, so they are able to service their debts. Often, switching jobs in destination is not possible, and workers risk becoming irregular.

A baseline study conducted by ILO and the International Organization of Migration in 2017 found that Vietnamese migrant workers returning from Malaysia and Thailand paid higher migration costs than those from other countries in the region. Vietnamese migrant workers also had to borrow the largest amounts and took the longest time – up to 11 months – to pay back their loans.

“These debts make Vietnamese migrant workers vulnerable to human trafficking and forced labour,” said the head of ILO Viet Nam, “as people seeking to abuse, exploit or deceive workers have leverage to manipulate them.”

The same study also revealed that 76 per cent of Vietnamese migrant workers experienced labour rights abuses during their time working in Malaysia and Thailand. This is particularly problematic as Vietnamese migrant workers have limited access to legal remedies in both Viet Nam and destination countries, which can hamper detection of forced labour or human trafficking cases.

“To protect migrant workers from abusive and fraudulent practices during the recruitment process and to reduce the cost of labour migration, the Vietnamese Government, recruitment agencies and trade unions need to continue efforts to improve migration governance,” Lee added.

The Government has made progress to establish a legal framework to prevent human trafficking in the context of labour migration by developing the 2006 Law on Vietnamese overseas workers, the 2011 Law on Prevention of Human Trafficking, and the revision of the Penal Code in 2015. The Code of Conduct on ethical and responsible recruitment was launched by the Viet Nam Association of Manpower Supply in 2010 and updated in 2018, and Migrant Worker Resources Centres have been established to increase migrant workers’ access to information and justice. The role of trade unions in monitoring the implementation of the law and protection of migrant workers’ rights is also promoted through collaboration with trade unions in destination countries. From national to local levels, progress has been made to strengthen collaboration between labour migration and criminal justice actors to identify and prosecute unscrupulous recruiters.

“Not all Vietnamese migrant workers are able to access fair and ethical recruitment. The movement towards ‘employer pays’ rather than worker-borne migration costs will be a challenge for the Vietnamese recruitment industry, though we are confident that Vietnamese stakeholders can ensure migrant workers remain competitive in global supply chains,” said the head of ILO Viet Nam.

He also called for stronger administration of both labour and criminal justice frameworks and actors to prevent the degeneration of labour violations into forced labour and human trafficking, and to identify and bring perpetrators to justice.

“The on-going revision of Law 72 on Vietnamese overseas workers is an opportunity to review migration policies and increase regulation and oversight of recruitment practices to better protect migrant workers and combat forced labour and human trafficking, enhancing the contribution of labour migration to national development,” he added.

Migrant workers currently make a significant contribution to the economic development of Viet Nam through remittances. According to Government estimates, Vietnamese migrant workers send home US$2.5-3 billion each year.