Opening address at the ASEAN conference on the labour dimensions of trafficking in persons

By Mr Lawrence Jeff Johnson, Director of the ILO Country Office for the Philippines at the ASEAN conference on the labour dimensions of trafficking in persons, Pasay City, Philippines, 27 January 2015

Statement | Pasay City, Philippines | 26 January 2015
  • Honourable Secretary Baldoz of the Department of Labor and Employment
  • Prosecutor Pajarito representing Honourable Secretary de Lima of the Department of Justice
  • Excellencies:
    Ambassador Reeder of the Embassy of Canada
    Ambassador Twedell of the Embassy of Australia
  • Distinguished officials from the governments of ASEAN member States, employers’ and workers’ organizations, and civil society organizations,
  • Distinguished guests from the ASEAN Secretariat
  • Colleagues from the ILO and the Asia-Australia Programme to Combat Trafficking in Persons
  • Ladies and gentlemen, magandang umaga sa inyong lahat!
To those who visiting the Philippines, let me welcome you to where it is truly more fun!

Your presence is vital in this ground-breaking event. For the first time, a diverse representation of ASEAN stakeholders from the labour and criminal justice sectors have come together to discuss the labour dimensions of trafficking in the region.

We’re grateful for the opportunity to share experiences and perspectives. Combating trafficking in persons for the purpose of labour exploitation is an issue that has long been one of ILO’s top priorities.

Shortly, the ILO will mark its 100 years of anniversary. Since its inception, the ILO, has been addressing trafficking and forced labour. Back then, the ILO rallied against conditions of employment in overseas territories and the forced movement of people for the purpose of labour exploitation.

This early context provided the basis for the ILO Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) and the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105).

In recent decades, we’ve been witnessing globalization increasingly. There continue to be rapid growth in air travel which enable greater movements of people and goods across the globe.

However widening wealth gaps, both within and between countries, persist. Demand for low cost labour in more developed countries continue to be a challenge.

In less developed countries, poverty and vulnerable employment leave people with little or no choice but to accept or create whatever work is available in order to survive. In effect, people are compelled migrate in search of better lives for themselves and their loved ones.

At present, while many are successful in finding decent employment, some are coerced into work they have not chosen voluntarily.

To help curb the incidence of trafficking in persons for labour exploitation, we must heed Philippine President Aquino’s advice that migrant workers should be leaving the country “by choice rather than being forced by necessity”.

According to the ILO Global Estimates of Forced Labour, nearly 21 million people globally are victims of forced labour.

Out of this global number, 90 per cent are exploited in the private sector, and the Asia-Pacific region accounts for 56 per cent of the total victims.

Migrant workers are susceptible to forced labour often due to deceptive recruitment and exploitative labour practices.

This is particularly true for migrant workers who are uninformed of their rights and are afraid to speak out when it comes to irregularities in their recruitment and employment experience. They lack the protection necessary to avoid and fight against exploitative practices.

In 2014, a new legally-binding ILO Protocol to the ILO Forced Labour Convention was adopted. This Protocol strengthens the fundamental obligation to prevent forced labour in all its forms as set out in Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29).

It provides more detailed guidance on how to tackle modern forms of forced labour, specifically in the areas of prevention protection of victims, and sanctions against perpetrators

The best approaches are multi-sector initiatives that involve governments, employers and workers’ groups, as well as civil society in both labour -sending and -receiving countries.

Recognizing the vital role of each stakeholder, the new ILO Protocol urges member States to:
  1. Educate workers and employers on identifying and reporting incidences of forced labour
  2. Enhance the role of police and labour inspectors to identify victims and perpetrators
  3. Capacitate judicial authorities to have adequate knowledge and appropriate legislative tools to prosecute cases
  4. Partner with trade unions and civil society organizations in providing services, monitoring recruitment and work conditions, as well as negotiating contracts
  5. Support efforts by employers’ organizations in developing codes of conduct against force labour, and
  6. Extend protection services to all victims, regardless of immigration status.
During your discussions, I hope you keep these recommendations in mind.

This conference provides an avenue for coordination and cooperation between the ASEAN Committee on the Implementation of the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers and the Senior Officials Meeting on Transnational Crime.

With the ASEAN Economic Community fast approaching, it is time for all ASEAN stakeholders to come together to address the labour dimensions of trafficking in persons.

I look forward to learning about the cross-sectoral activities we can develop at this conference. The ILO stands ready to engage with you.

Thank you and Mabuhay!