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There is a large demand for migrant labour, most of which comes from Eastern Europe, in the agricultural sector within the European Union. While most migrants are men, women also migrate to undertake this kind of work. It calls for the development of more sex-disaggregated data and tools of analysis for studying the specific conditions of migrant women in sectors such as agriculture, pointing out that what disaggregated data exist tend to focus on feminised areas such as sex or care and domestic work.

Also, it argues for a gendered, human rights-based framework to address the structural factors that generate the vulnerability experienced by migrant labour. The garment industry has traditionally been an employer of women in many countries of the world. Much of the workforce is made up of women migrants, many of whom move from rural to urban areas to take up jobs in garment factories. Lack of knowledge of the local language contributed to the vulnerability and isolation of these workers. This is a summary report of an expert meeting held to stimulate further research into issues around the migration of highly skilled women.

The number of tertiary-level educated women migrants is, according to the report, a growing phenomenon. For example, the number of tertiary-educated migrant women in OECD countries between and rose by 80 per cent, and, in Africa, the average emigration rates of tertiary-educated women are considerably higher than those of tertiary-educated men, at nearly 28 per cent for women compared with just over 17 per cent for men. Areas of concern highlighted in the report include the persistent unemployment and therefore general deskilling of highly skilled women migrants, despite the increased emphasis on educational attainment in the migration selection policies of many states.

Here, gender-blind migration policies admission programmes targeting the highly skilled, for example, are often biased towards occupations that are traditionally held by men. Comprising individual specialists from UN bodies, academia, and civil society organisations, the Expert Group has been advocating for a gender-sensitive Global Compact, to ensure that the human rights of migrant women and girls are observed and protected. Previous guidance notes in the series address the need for the Compact to ensure gender-responsive access to services and justice; ensuring a gender-responsive approach to promoting and protecting the human rights of children and families at all stages of migration; and guidance on how to ensure that the human rights, including labour rights, of women migrant workers are fully protected and promoted, whether working in the formal or informal economy.

A UN agency, the ILO brings together representatives from governments, employers, and workers, to help shape programmes and policies, and is responsible for drawing up and overseeing international labour standards.

The shaping of everyday experiences

It is the only UN agency with a mandate to protect migrant workers, and has been involved with labour migration issues since its inception in Established in , IOM is an inter-governmental agency working in four broad areas of migration management: migration and development; facilitation of migration; regulation of migration; and forced migration. This is in the context of a weakened International Labour Organization, which is the central standard-setting international organisation in the area of migrant and non-migrant labour.

This includes civil rights, such as access to justice and privacy, and social and labour rights, such as working time and minimum wage, and the author argues, takes an integrated approach towards human rights law in line with the ideal of citizenship, where all groups of rights are essential for membership. Not addressed by the author, however, is the necessity, and willingness, for countries to ratify the convention in order for workers to benefit from its protections, and as of May , only 25 countries had done so.

An example of the kind of exclusion from services outlined in the World Health Organization resource Women on the Move see above , and indeed, of the specifically gendered inequalities relating to im migration policies, the research in this report draws on the experiences of 16 women migrants in the UK, many of whom had irregular immigration status, and no financial resources.

The report documents the stress experienced by this already vulnerable group of women who are officially recognised as having highrisk pregnancies, and have often been unable to access antenatal care as they face a system in which charges are often wrongly applied and in which individual billing renders them solely responsible for payment, absolving partners from any financial responsibility. This Brussels-based network consists of members ranging from on-the-ground service providers to organisations carrying out research and advocacy.

UK NGO Kalayaan is an example of the kind of organisation that has developed in many countries to respond to the needs of migrant domestic workers.

Bookmarks Exploited: Migrant Labour in the New Global Economy : Toby Shelley

As well as lobbying for change with regard to immigration and employment laws, it offers a range of services for its migrant worker clients. These include advice on immigration and employment, support in retrieving passports from employers, training in accessing health care and mainstream services in the UK, English-language classes, support with reading and writing letters or forms, and provides practical emergency assistance to clients who have recently left abusive employers.

Opening with the UN definition of trafficking, this briefing paper provides an overview of some of the gendered aspects of trafficking, with a particular focus on Europe. This human rights violation is on the increase, the report argues, due to increasing mobility, the internet and new technologies, low risks and high profits for traffickers, and very few prosecutions for this crime. Trafficking for sexual exploitation was higher in the European Union, at 69 per cent p. Also discussed are recruitment channels, such as false job offers and matrimonial agencies, the rise of the use of digital technologies in trafficking, and international and European Union efforts to combat this crime.

This paper provides a consideration of gender and trafficking. Barriers to labour migration and tightening borders see women and men from economically disadvantaged countries resorting to traffickers in the absence of legal or safe channels of migration. The paper also includes a section on the controversial issue of trafficking and sex work, summarising the differences in feminist thinking on this subject. While acknowledging that trafficked women can have very different experiences — ranging from unremitting physical assault to psychological pressure via threats to themselves and family members — this report, based on research undertaken with women who were trafficked to and within Europe, underscores the long-lasting damage done to the health of trafficked women and girls.

The report outlines the kind of physical, sexual, and psychological injuries sustained by the women, and points to the significance of physical and sexual violence experienced by women in their lives prior to being trafficked, with the women in the study reporting notably high levels of this kind of abuse.

How do these enabling social asymmetries come about, and what forms do they take? There are three aspects that deserve attention. Across the world, as much in the United Kingdom and United States as in India, Argentina, Mexico or South Africa, new laws were passed to dismantle previous regimes of worker protections and to provide employers with maximum flexibility in handling labour. In a contribution in , Robert W. This expanding population is largely comprised of the global working poor—a category that orthodox economic and development policy thinking has long struggled to accommodate, as work is envisaged in this thinking as the route out of poverty and the key to poverty reduction.

The question of marginality in this sense has never been more pronounced or pressing; but the marginality stems as much from the terms of in clusion in global economic activity as from conditions of ex clusion. The third aspect of particular relevance relates to the inequalities which stem from migration. Migrant labour was identified above as one of the most important constituencies in this new global labour force—and here, obviously, our interest is in the low-paid, low-skill segments of the labour force, which are also significantly feminized in many sectors.

The dynamics of precarious employment and adverse incorporation are magnified by the particular vulnerabilities of migrant workers, especially where they are working in the informal economy. Migrant workers lack the power to engage in political action around wages and conditions, and they lack the rights and entitlements associated with citizenship or residency.

Laws governing immigration or internal movements also often act to strip these workers of labour or welfare protections, constrain their ability to seek satisfactory working conditions by changing employers, and provide mechanisms that employers can use to manipulate them, particularly perhaps when the worker is undocumented, such as the threat of denunciation to immigration authorities.

Forced labour and child labour are strongly, although not exclusively, associated with the inequalities which attach to the migrant labour force.

These existing social inequalities provide the environment in which the commercial dynamics within GVCs outlined in the previous section can flourish. Conversely, where labour is scarce, employers are more likely to raise wages and improve conditions in order to attract and retain workers. A final layer in our discussion relates to the asymmetries of social power which come into play in generating these patterns of exploitation and inequality.

It is through these mechanisms that inequality, in Tilly's phrase, becomes durable, and often intergenerational: exclusion from access to value-producing resources and arenas of opportunity is perpetuated by the consequences of exploitation in GVCs, perhaps particularly in those forms associated with forced and child labour. Let us then take the argument on to the third point of the triangular scheme in figure 1 , returning to our starting-point of the geographic fragmentation of global production. We have explored the business case for this kind of model and its social foundations, but now need to incorporate a more explicit recognition of the asymmetries of political power which underpin it.

These asymmetries take many forms across diverse arenas of governance and policy, some of which such as the governance of immigration and mobility we have already touched on. Given constraint on space, this final section will focus on the politics of global business and regulation. We have established that the geographic fragmentation of production is driven in large part by the search of many firms in many sectors for permissive regulatory and political environments, particularly in relation to labour and environmental standards.

However, it is not simply that these conditions exist and firms take locational decisions on that basis. Rather, lead firms mobilize vast political power to create those conditions and ensure that they are maintained. In the competition to attract foreign investment and to increase their exports, many developing countries have incentives to be the low-cost point in GVCs.

Similarly, enforcement mechanisms remain either underdeveloped or unimplemented. For many states, these outcomes emerge from the significant asymmetries of political and bargaining power that exist between their governments and transnational and some local firms. For others, the pressures of compulsion are less pronounced, but the competitive dynamics of the global economy and the demands of economic development push in the same direction, given additional impetus by the political power of transnational business.

Evidence of these political dynamics abounds.

China's Labour Contract Law of , for example, increased wages and protections for workers. A large number of big firms responded by moving their operations to sites in countries such as Vietnam or Cambodia where the regulatory environment remained even more permissive and labour costs even lower. Arguments about political incentives against regulation are just as relevant to the more advanced economies as in the so-called developing world, where political dynamics between governments and big business, as well as ideological affinities between them, have substantially the same outcomes in terms of a retraction of regulation.

As indicated above, it is firms, not states, that now play the major role in determining what will be produced, where and on what terms, and what will be traded internationally. Specifically, firms also play a major role in determining how production will be regulated, including through labour and environmental standards. In consequence, the debate has recently shifted to an important and fascinating consideration of what kinds of governance initiatives, under what conditions, can make a difference in improving labour and other standards in the global economy, and what kinds of effective regulation can be conceived in the context of a world dominated by powerful business actors and the competitive dynamics of GVCs.

At the same time it must not be forgotten that there are plentiful examples of firms that have engaged in meaningful responsibility and accountability initiatives with some positive outcomes, and that not all firms are engaged in strategies of continually seeking to circumvent or undermine public regulation. It is interesting that in Britain, during the process of drawing up the Modern Slavery Act of , some businesses agitated for at least an element of government regulation inasmuch as they perceived a need for a level playing field in relation to labour practices. At the same time, the relentless pressure on electronics firms from media and NGOs, noted above, has led to some significant initiatives to address the problem of labour abuses in their value chains.

A final caveat is in order. Some states are more politically willing than others to challenge big business, through regulation or other means. Similarly, intense political contestation occurs between states and firms, as they tussle for control over the terms of production and the value created in the global economy. Tax scandals represent one case-study of this contestation.

Another is the tension between business and government in relation to immigration policy and its consequences for labour supply. In relation to labour standards, there has emerged a politics of blame, where firms are apt to place responsibility on state regulation and blame its deficiencies, states are apt to insist that these are supply-chain issues, consumers receive appeals from each side, and workers continue to labour in conditions of systematic exploitation. Asymmetries of political power thus form a critical part of the picture of how inequalities are produced and reproduced in a GVC world.

Exploited : Migrant labour in the new global economy

Governance and politics matter, in short, and political power—both public and private—fuses in dynamic ways with market power and social power to produce the patterns of inequality in the global political economy that have been so amply observed over recent years. At the time of writing in early , public discourse had renewed its focus on inequality in an attempt to understand seismic events such as the UK's referendum vote to leave the European Union, the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, and the rise of the populist right in several countries.

Questions of disadvantage, alienation and exclusion are all critical to this conjunction of events and trends. Yet a focus on those people and sections of society alienated from globalization and crushed by its distributional dynamics cannot capture the full complexity of the political moment in which we find ourselves.


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Equally relevant is the question of for whom the system works: how, politically, the opportunities are protected for the massive concentration of wealth, power and advantage that we have explored here, and how economic, social and political inequalities can be manipulated and created afresh for that purpose. Whether this means that we are seeing a significant crisis of capitalism, of an order which could usher in a substantively new order, remains an open question and one which deserves continued careful attention.

To this extent, the inescapable conclusion is that incremental change will not be sufficient to address the distributional implications of the GVC world. The nationalistic, nativistic response of the political right in this context is deeply unpalatable and alarming to many, but has not yet been met with a coherent challenge from the centre or the left.

A compelling vision is needed of a progressive, internationalist politics that is capable of addressing the issues of power and inequality in the global political economy which have led us to this juncture, and capable of producing a foundation for significantly more equitable and inclusive forms of growth and development.

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