European Voice: In last week's edition (“Time for the EU to acknowledge the advantages of migration”, 15-21 October), two Swedish ministers made a justified plea for better-managed migration in Europe, for more transparent legal migration and for greater cohesion between migration and development policies.
This week (23 October), at a ministerial meeting in Brussels, the Swedish EU presidency is also calling for intensified action against forced labour and human trafficking. This is the worst form of migration, the underside of globalisation.
Europeans have woken up to the fact that there are new forms of coercion on our labour markets, sometimes subtle but always cruel.
The problem is that, despite a growing outcry and new laws and policies against labour trafficking in most European countries, there is practically no law enforcement and neither the criminal- nor labour-justice systems have clear strategies for addressing and remedying abuses.
A study published by the International Labour Office (ILO) this May – “The Cost of Coercion” – calculated that $20 billion (€13.3bn) worldwide is stolen from workers in situations of forced labour.
There is also a financial cost to legitimate business and, of course, there is the intangible cost to our values and institutions when the unscrupulous make large profits at the expense of the vulnerable.
Usually, those offenders are not organised syndicates operating in a sinister underworld.
Instead, very often, they are people or agencies operating on the margins of legality, exploiting legal loopholes to overcharge heavily for a range of services and intimidate those who protest against their treatment.
Labour inspectorates therefore need to address trafficking just as much as the police and criminal prosecutors. In the past month alone, I have heard largely similar concerns echoed at meetings on trafficking in Canada, Europe and the Gulf states.
I have also heard similar suggestions: rein in abusive recruiters; curb excessive fees; improve the monitoring of recruitment practices; provide safeguards against abuse of temporary-work schemes; establish grievance procedures; and, above all, bring governments, employers, recruiting agencies and trade unions to the table to agree on appropriate regulations and procedures to set minimum standards.
We also need better operational indicators, to assist both data-gathering and law enforcement on the subtler forms of coercion. Together with the EU, the ILO has now developed a comprehensive set of such indicators, covering the various forms of coercion and deception throughout the trafficking cycle.
And last month in Lisbon, an expert group of criminal and labour prosecutors discussed how these can best be adapted to the needs of law enforcement, as well as basic awareness and training programmes.
Last year, the US amended its anti-trafficking law to introduce a new offence – fraud in foreign labour contracting. Europe should take note. Its response to the global economic and financial crisis has been to seek to improve regulations and oversight.
We need to apply a similar logic to the governance of global labour markets. In many cases flexibility has gone way too far; those who pay the price are unprotected migrant workers.
International Labour Office