Lynne Featherstone’s speech on ‘Work in freedom, responsible business and supply chains’ (WP1270)

14 October, 2013

On Thursday 10 October, Lynne Featherstone, Parliamentary Under Secretary, Department for International Development (DFID), gave a speech at our conference.

Combating human trafficking: business and human rights

Thursday 1o October 2013 (WP1270)

“Honoured guests,

It gives me great pleasure to be with you here today for this important discussion on business and its role in addressing trafficking and human rights. My Department sees the private sector as vital not just in the fight against forced labour and human trafficking, but also in supporting our efforts on global poverty, social and economic development.

DFID sees inclusive growth and economic development as cornerstones for tackling poverty and promoting development. A vibrant and dynamic private sector creates jobs for poor people, improves skills and productivity, increases trade and access to markets. But we want the benefits of jobs and growth to be realised by the many not the few.

Businesses can drive higher standards in their supply chains. Responsible businesses demand that employers at every tier in their supply chains respect the rights and dignity of their workers; that they pay them a decent wage, recognise their right to organise and give them the tools to negotiate the terms and conditions of their work. Most importantly it ensures workers have the right to choice, and the freedom to take up or leave work of their own volition.

Increasingly, we are seeing large companies driving demand for greater respect for human rights – for example, UK retailers have signed up to the Ethical Trade Initiative and are demanding that their suppliers pay minimum wages. They do this because it’s the right thing and the smart thing to do. They know there will be long-term commercial returns – through more loyal customers, more engaged employees and a social licence to operate in local communities.

But it is often small businesses in unregulated environments operating through sub-contracts at the lower end of the supply chain where the risk of abuse is likely to be greatest. This is where we collectively need to focus more of our efforts if we are to protect people from the risks of trafficking. One needs only to look at recent events, such as the collapse of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh to see the tragic consequences of a combination of failures in regulation, business practices, and lack of workers’ empowerment.
Earlier today, we heard about the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which create a global framework that can help prevent human trafficking and ensure better remedy for its victims. DFID supports the UK National Action Plan that gives effect to these Guidelines, and sets out the roles that government, businesses and civil society organisations each need to play.

It is also worth noting the role that DFID played in supporting the work of the High Level Panel on the global development agenda post-2015. The Prime Minister’s key message from this discussion was to ‘Leave No-one Behind’ and that is very relevant for the discussion today.

Forced labour and trafficking

To date, most of the global effort on trafficking has focused on the sex industry, and whilst this is a shocking form of exploitation deserving of international attention, we must not forget that, in fact, most people who get trafficked are migrant workers. Every year, around 21 million people are trafficked or coerced into forced labour.

These are women and men that migrate for work in search of work and better livelihoods because they lack job opportunities at home. The remittances they send often lift themselves and their families out of chronic poverty. They aren’t typically abducted through criminal networks, but are caught in a web of corruption, deception and abuse. The migrants who get jobs at the lower end of the labour market are often extremely poor and desperate for jobs. They are likely to come from remote areas without a decent education, and they lack adequate information about the process of migration. They are often deceived about the terms and conditions of the jobs they are promised, the wages they’ll be paid, the paperwork they need to migrate legally, and end up tricked and trapped in forced labour.

For women, migrating for work presents an opportunity to earn an independent income and to have greater choice and control over their own lives. When they earn an income they are often valued by their families and treated with more respect. They are more likely to educate their children and their remittances are often used to improve the health and nutrition of their families.

But tragically, much of the evidence shows that women migrant workers, such as those employed in garment factories or as domestic servants, are particularly vulnerable to trafficking and forced labour.

These jobs are often characterised by low wages and hazardous working conditions. Domestic work in particular is often not covered by labour law and means that domestic workers have few rights or options. Because domestic work takes place behind closed doors in private homes, hidden from public scrutiny, women are more likely to suffer extreme forms of exploitation and trafficking. They may be sexually and physically abused, are expected to be on call 24 hours a day with no time off and may not be paid. In the Middle East, their passports and documents are routinely kept by their employer, limiting their ability to move freely in their host countries. If they manage to escape an abusive situation they will be locked up as criminals. If and when they return home, they are often stigmatised by their communities, laden with debt and can be left with no option but to try to migrate again, or take to the streets as sex workers. The cycle of abuse and exploitation is shocking when labour migration goes wrong.

This leads me to talk a little bit about the Work in Freedom Programme, which is an important part of DFID’s programme response to these issues. The programme aims to deliver direct benefits to 100,000 girls and women who migrate from South Asia to the Middle East in search of jobs in the domestic and garment sectors. This is a partnership with the International Labour Organisation and other organisations.

The programme is based on the idea that we need to target and interrupt all the vulnerable points along the trafficking and migration chain: working with governments, trade unions, CSOs and international agencies to ensure that recruiters, international brands and suppliers abide by ethical contracts and stop illegal or unsafe practices which harm those who work for them.

The programme will work at the community level to improve information and awareness so migrant workers can better protect themselves from being trafficked. It will include vocational training with qualifications for domestic and garment sector workers that incentivise employers to recruit them through legal channels and creates a virtuous cycle of regulated migration, better skilled workers, higher wages and decent work for women. We will help prevent girls under 16 from being forced into child labour, by helping them to stay in school. We will support ethical and regulated recruitment agencies and labour brokers to not charge fees to workers. We will support law enforcement officials and labour inspectors to identify and monitor labour trafficking; and will support better services for victims of trafficking.

Evidence is critical for DFID. We know that we need sound analysis, a clear theory of change and good data to inform our work so that we can make the best possible use of our investments. But we’ve discovered that evidence and data on what works to prevent trafficking in the long term is weak. That is why the ‘Work in Freedom’ programme has allocated a large percentage of its budget to investing in data collection, monitoring and evaluation in partnership with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine as well as the ILO. The London School will conduct a robust impact evaluation that will contribute to global public knowledge about what works and why, where we should focus and scale up our investments in the future.

I could say much more about all this – it is an issue which I feel passionate about and I am deeply committed to doing more. But my time is up, and there won’t be an opportunity for a question and answer session. However DFID’s lead adviser on this programme is here today and would be happy to talk further with you about this.

I wish you well in your deliberations today, and hope you will identify practical ways to address these challenges. If we are to truly change the landscape of trafficking and forced labour, no single enterprise or agency can do this alone. We need to build strong partnerships and collaboration between businesses, governments and civil society. It is only by building this type of coalition that we’ll be able to harness the efforts, experiences, networks and resources that we all have to prevent and coordinate action on trafficking.
Thank you.”

Further information

Conference on Combating human trafficking: business and human rights

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