The domestic service industry has the largest share of forced labor in the private economy. 80% of domestic workers are women.

A Better Way to Do Business: Investing in the Fair Model to End Forced Labor

Ethical business means better business. This is the message that our partner, Fair Employment Foundation (FEF), continues to share with businesses and recruiting agencies across the globe. 

Founded on the belief that “forced labor is a solvable world problem,” FEF works to fix broken recruitment systems and build market solutions to end the forced labor of migrant workers.  FEF is pushing back against agencies and training centers that focus more on the business of migration than the migrants themselves. With an eye on profits, recruiters are often incentivized to place those who are willing to pay rather than those who are best fitted for a job. They are also less invested in making sure migrants are prepared for work abroad –if a worker quits or gets fired, the agency can simply charge another worker the same fee. In other words, it is on the backs of migrant workers that recruitment agencies and training institutes succeed.

To begin to transform a recruitment system that harms both workers and employers, FEF established its own placement agency in Hong Kong in 2014. Two years later, the Fair Training Center opened its doors in Manila, Philippines.  In becoming both placement agency and trainer, FEF is transforming industry standards and driving change to end forced labor. 

Forced Labor in the Domestic Service Industry

While one in eight Hong Kong households currently employs a migrant domestic worker, this number is only expected to grow as the country learns to cope with a rapidly aging population. The Filipino government estimates that one in four of the 11.5 million migrant domestic workers in the world are Filipina women; Hong Kong alone is home to 200,000 Filipina domestic workers. Despite laws governing the sector, the domestic service industry has the largest share of forced labor in the private economy, accounting for nearly 25% of cases. Debt bondage – often the result of exploitative fees — is one of the most prevalent forms of forced labor.  Domestic workers are especially vulnerable to abuse as they are employed in private households, their labor unseen and therefore unregulated. 80% of domestic workers are women.

Given the high prevalence of Filipinas in the domestic service industry and the high rate of exploitation in this sector, we partnered with FEF to scale its ethical recruitment model. From our shared commitment to systems change, we are working to build sustainable and scalable solutions that address the problem at each stage of the recruitment process, from pre-departure to placement and beyond. 

Training for Work AND Life Overseas

The Filipino government currently mandates that migrant workers obtain a certificate affirming skill level from the country’s Technical Authority (Technical Education And Skills Development Authority or TESDA) before departing. Though training is not required, most migrants choose to participate to prepare both for the skills assessment and for life overseas. Training is rigorous, requiring participants in TESDA- accredited domestic service programs to complete at least 218 credit hours and master a set of “core competencies” that includes cleaning rooms, washing and ironing clothes, and preparing hot and cold meals. (In collaboration with ILO and Fair Training Center, TESDA recently launched a pilot hybrid-learning program that shortens the training period for the Domestic Work certificate to 12 days.)  However, despite intensive skills training, many migrant domestic workers struggle with the experience of living and working abroad. Between 30 and 40% of first-time Philippine domestic worker placements overseas are terminated or break their employment contract in just the first few months. Without a job, migrant workers become even more vulnerable, pressured to quickly find another job or leave the country. 

In addition, training costs money– a lot of money. Excessive fees force many migrants into debt before they are ever introduced to a recruitment agency. OneTESDA-accredited training school for domestic workers going abroad, charges $368 in tuition and another $10 for the test. The average monthly income in the Philippines is about $290. Though migrants pay these fees for the chance to work abroad and earn higher wages, debt is not something that is easily overcome, especially for migrant workers. Separated from home and community, migrants often struggle under the weight of perpetual debt, a struggle that puts them at greater risk of exploitation. 

As part of its mission to ensure safer migration for overseas domestic workers, FEF opened Fair Training Center in Manila in late 2016. Built from the same commitment to ethical recruitment, the Center provides a more comprehensive curriculum for overseas workers, one that takes into account employer expectations and local or country-specific conditions. While training helps overseas workers hone technical skills such as cooking and cleaning, it also supports development of soft skills such as communication and professionalism. Migrants are educated on their rights and receive training and advice, not only on how to cope with the challenges of living overseas, but on how to thrive as migrant workers in a foreign country. From the 30%-40% termination rate, Fair Training Center boasts dramatically reduced rates of early termination. Less than 10% of overseas domestic workers trained at the center are terminated or break their contracts in the first three months of employment. The UN’s International Labor Organization refers to FEF’s program as “the gold standard for pre-migration training.

Ethical Recruitment: An End-to-End Solution

While the Fair Training Center helps migrants avoid training fees and provides more comprehensive training, it is only one piece of FEF’s ethical recruitment model. Migrant workers confront the threat of exploitation at nearly every step in the migration process. It may begin at the point of training, but it lingers throughout the process of recruitment and placement as agencies in both the Philippines and Hong Kong exploit migrant workers by charging exorbitant fees. 

To address the issue at the site of origin, FEF partnered with Staffhouse, one of the largest recruitment agencies in the Philippines and one similarly committed to ethical recruitment and zero-fee charging. As Staffhouse has ranked as the Top Deploying Agency for skilled workers by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) for three consecutive years, FEF is confident this new partnership will be transformational for the entire industry in the Philippines. 

At the destination site, FEF already operates Fair Employment Agency (FEA), an ethical placement agency. With an emphasis on full transparency and matching the right employee with the right employer, FEA has built a reputation as one of the region’s most trustworthy recruiting sources. In 2020, FEA placed its 4000th domestic worker, helping these migrant workers collectively avoid an estimated US $7.5 million in recruitment debt. 

With GFEMS support, FEF was able to scale up its recruitment services. Additional investments in staff and resources needed to interview and place workers, process visas, engage with employers, and monitor placements enabled FEA to safely place hundreds more migrant workers. By 2021, FEA achieved its 5000th placement. Half of these placements have been Filipino domestic workers. None have been charged a fee.  

Every year, millions of workers leave their homes for better opportunities abroad. However, the circumstances that push migrant workers out are often the ones that make them most susceptible to exploitation and abuse: poverty, low wages, low-skill, and general lack of economic opportunity. Our investment in FEF and its ethical recruitment model has helped thousands of Filipino workers forge successful migration paths. It is a model that is replicable and scalable (see sidebar) and one that has the potential, not only to disrupt business-as-usual practices that harm migrant workers, but to really begin to change systems that enable modern slavery.

To learn more about FEF, please visit https://www.fairgroup.org/

Programs referenced in this article are funded by a grant from the United States Department of State. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author[s] and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.

Investing in Solutions that are Replicable and Scalable

In 2019, Malaysia’s first ethical recruitment agency opened its doors. With access to resources and networks developed under the GFEMS-FEF partnership and under the mentorship of FEF’s CEO, Zenna Law and Elaine  Sim founded Pinkcollar to help domestic workers migrate to Malaysia safely and debt-free.  With this support, Law says, “Pinkcollar launched its services with a tried-and-tested recruitment strategy that we felt confident with.”

Pinkcollar exemplifies perfectly what binds GFEMS and FEF together: a commitment to solutions that are replicable and scaleable, solutions that will ultimately uproot the systems that enable modern slavery.

 “We see supporting emerging ethical players in the recruitment industry as the next step to broadening our impact,” asserts FEF’s CEO.  With more agencies pursuing ethical recruitment models, new industries and markets will be reached much more efficiently, and we will “achieve our aim of ending forced labour of migrant workers.”

 

Women experience every stage of migration differently than men do, including returning back to the home country.

Shattered Dreams: Bangladeshi Migrant Workers during a Global Pandemic

The onset of the global pandemic exposed migrant workers to additional adverse situations, making them even more vulnerable and exposed to health risks.

Existing weak labor systems in GCC countries combined with poor living conditions, restricted access to health care, scarce legal protection and limited information have amplified the vulnerabilities of the migrant worker population.

In addition, forced repatriation of Bangladeshi migrant workers has led to a mass exodus of migrants back to their home country.

This policy brief presents findings from a rapid assessment conducted to assess the multi-faceted impacts of COVID-19 on the Bangladesh OLR industry and migrant workers’ conditions and vulnerabilities.

Key Findings

  1. There is limited reintegration support for returnee migrants
  2. There is increased risk of forced labor among returnee andpre-departure migrants
  3. There are a lack of interventions targeting skills-development, remigration, and pre-departure migrant protection
For more details and to see recommendations for action, download the full briefing:

Interested in even more information? Download the full report for more details on findings, implications, and methodology.

*This brief was prepared with support from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery (GFEMS). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of FCDO or GFEMS.

Our early programming in Vietnam led to learnings about forced labor of migrant workers in five key categories.

What we learned in our first programs in Vietnam

Between 2018-2020, GFEMS funded research and advocacy efforts focused on labor migration from Vietnam. These efforts were carried out in partnership with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and the Responsible Business Alliance.

This briefing presents summarized findings from across these efforts and represents inputs from a range of labor migration stakeholders including government agencies, private sector entities, labor recruiters, service providers, and, crucially, migrant workers and their families. Collectively, these quantitative and qualitative insights find commonality in their emphasis of five key areas:

  1. Recruitment fees and associated debt among migrant workers
  2. Deceptive recruitment practices and significant exit penalties
  3. Lack of effective grievance mechanisms for workers
  4. Importance of regulatory reform surrounding migrant recruitment
  5. Opportunities for private sector commitment to ethical recruitment

Select Key Learnings

The findings showed that 13.65% of the sample experienced indicators synonymous with labor trafficking.

If the ratio of these findings were extrapolated to the overall number of migrant workers who were employed overseas during the same time period (274,890 workers to Taiwan and 107,975 workers to Japan), it is likely that forced labor conditions would have affected tens of thousands of Vietnamese migrants who worked in these countries.

Deceptive recruitment practices perpetrated on Vietnamese migrant workers begin pre-departure and often carry over to destination.

Worker response to both the IOM and UMass Lowell studies revealed that in a number of cases, parts of the recruitment fees and costs were significantly deducted from migrant workers’ salary during employment, exacerbating situations of indebtedness and debt bondage.

Select Recommendations

It is critical for government agencies to provide clear and regularly updated information to prospective migrant workers on the different costs and fees involved in migrating to different destinations and sectors, using a range of dissemination channels.

The development and implementation of a regionally contextualized curriculum for prospective migrant workers would help ensure that pre- departure trainings are comprehensive and include modules related to forced labor risks, working conditions, worker rights at destination, and avenues for grievance reporting and recourse.

Expand private sector engagement to ensure suppliers and recruiters adhere to ethical recruitment and fair labor standards.

Industry stakeholders should move toward “zero-fee” policies that are enshrined in formal, enforceable written agreements between buyers and suppliers, as well as between suppliers and their recruitment partners. Buyers and facilities should conduct regular and rigorous due diligence to determine whether workers are being required to pay recruitment fees or recruitment-related expenses, such as visa-processing or work permit fees. Companies need to exert top-down pressure on supply chains and mandate fair and ethical labor sourcing, employment practices, and working conditions.

For full findings and recommendations, download the briefing.

For updates on this project and others like it, subscribe to our newsletter, or follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

As many as 50,000 Vietnamese migrant workers may have  experienced forced labor in Japan and Taiwan between 2012-2016

Join us in ending forced labor.

Get Involved

Prevalence of forced labor among migrant workers from Vietnam

Labor export and associated remittances have become an important solution by the Vietnamese government to create jobs and alleviate poverty in rural communities. Each year, tens of thousands of Vietnamese leave the country to work overseas.

Japan and Taiwan have in recent years become the primary destinations, accounting for the majority of the country’s total labor force working overseas. Along with the growing number of migrant exports came the reports of unfair labor practices in recent years. GFEMS commissioned research to estimate the prevalence of labor trafficking victimization and other abusive employment practices among Vietnamese migrant workers to Japan and Taiwan. 

If these findings were of any indication, the victims of human trafficking would number in the tens of thousands among those who worked in Japan and Taiwan.

This brief summarizes the key findings of a study designed to estimate the prevalence of forced labor among Vietnamese migrant workers returning from Japan and Taiwan. The study was conducted by the University of Massachusetts Lowell, John Jay College, and the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences. The findings shed light on the prevalence with which forced labor conditions may be occurring among this population of migrants, including statistics on industries at highest risk. Prevalence research helps us understand where risks of modern slavery may be more acute, helping target the mitigation and remediation efforts of private sector, civil society, and government stakeholders.

Select Key Findings

Abuses at the Workplace
  • Overall, 27% of migrant workers reported experiencing at least one form of restricted freedom either limiting physical movement or communication.
  • Rates were higher among migrants traveling to Taiwan (31.18%) compared to Japan (17.81%).
  • The most frequent restriction of personal freedom was the confiscation of identification paperwork, accounting for 13.10% of the total sample. This practice was far less common in Japan (2.46%) than in Taiwan (18.0%). 
Prevalence of Forced Labor
  • Overall, 8.33% of workers who had most recently traveled to Japan were counted as probable cases of labor trafficking.
  • Meanwhile, 16.09% of workers who most recently travelled to Taiwan were counted as probable cases of labor trafficking.

Implications

This study quantified the rate of forced labor among a sample of returned Vietnamese migrants from Japan and Taiwan. The findings showed that 13.65% of the sample could be characterized as having experienced forced labor while working overseas. If one were to extrapolate that ratio to the number of migrant workers who had migrated during the same period of 2012-2016 (274,890 to Taiwan and 107,975 to Japan) as that of the study sample, more than 50,000 of them may have been subjected to forced labor while abroad. In other words, if these findings were of any indication, the victims of human trafficking would number in the tens of thousands among those who worked in Japan and Taiwan.

For the full findings and implications of the study, download the briefing or the full report.

Our next move: GFEMS makes first investments in East Africa

Our next move: GFEMS makes first investments in East Africa

The Global Fund to End Modern Slavery (GFEMS) is excited to share the launch of a new portfolio of investments in Kenya and Uganda. These new projects represent the growth of the Fund into East Africa and a significant expansion to our growing portfolio since our first investments in Asia in late 2018.

With support from the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, GFEMS is pleased to be funding nine new projects and working with seven new partners in East Africa. The portfolio totals nearly $10M USD.

“This is a significant moment for GFEMS as we grow and make progress towards our vision of ending modern slavery. These innovative investments will be a powerful step forward and reflect our unwavering commitment to ensuring local leadership and solutions that are sustainable and tailored to the needs of the populations we serve. We are excited to launch these projects with our fantastic partners and the support of the U.S. State Department, ” said Alex Thier, GFEMS CEO.

These innovative investments will be a powerful step forward and reflect our unwavering commitment to ensuring local leadership and solutions that are sustainable and tailored to the needs of the populations we serve.

— Alex Thier, CEO

These investments focus on two of the Fund’s key sectors– enhancing ethical recruitment and combating sex trafficking.  These efforts are intended to reduce the vulnerability of people to trafficking, forced labor, and exploitation and to support survivors; reduce the market pressure for sex trafficking and impossibly cheap labor; and improve the enabling environment to ensure good laws and regulations are properly enforced, and impunity for traffickers is ended. Learn more about Our Approach.

PARTNERS AND PROJECTS: 

  • International Organization for Migration (Kenyaand Uganda):Ethical recruitment is a key to disrupting forced labor and debt bondage. Our project with IOM will work with recruitment agencies to foster ethical practices while supporting government actors to create accountability with new recruitment oversight mechanisms.
  • International Associate of Women Judges (Kenya and Uganda): Labor trafficking among migrant workers is a complex, cross-border phenomenon. Information gaps and lack of coordination among law enforcement and judicial stakeholders hamper effective identification and prosecution of traffickers and prevalence reduction efforts. GFEMS and IAWJ will work together to bridge these information gaps and strengthen judicial and law enforcement response to trafficking cases. 
  • Terre des Hommes (Kenya and Uganda): Comprehensive efforts to combat sex trafficking need to include long term survivor support and community engagement. Terres des Hommes and GFEMS are focusing on skilling and livelihood training  for survivors for long-term employment and building a proactive and supportive community through community-based prevention 
  • Hope for Justice (Uganda): Putting the needs and wellbeing of survivors first is a critical part of addressing sex trafficking. This project aims to not only provide rehabilitation services to survivors, but to improve the standards of care within the region to prioritize survivor-informed practices. 
  • International Justice Mission (Kenya): Improving coordination among different actors in the justice system– prosecutors, law enforcement, social workers– is essential not only to deterring trafficking, but for increasing survivor confidence in the justice system. Together with IJM, GFEMS is working to build community and survivor confidence in the criminal justice system, increase capacity of local law enforcement to investigate and prosecute sex trafficking, and to develop new victim-centered standard operating procedures for victim case management.
  • Willow International (Uganda): To build resiliency against unethical recruitment and risk of trafficking, migrant workers need end-to-end support. Willow and GFEMS are working to build community resilience against exploitative recruitment for vulnerable populations in Uganda by providing pre-labor migration support, training, and resources, and rehabilitation and reintegration services for survivors.
  • Awareness Against Human Trafficking (HAART) (Kenya): Reducing vulnerability to trafficking includes safely rehabilitating and reintegrating survivors into their community. GFEMS and HAART are working to support survivors in their reintegration journey, and empower vulnerable populations by driving their employability in safe jobs. 

Across these projects and the Fund’s wider portfolio, GFEMS designs programs and strategies for future investments with systemic change and sustainability in mind. Our funding focuses on projects with high potential for replication and scale, and identifies opportunities to leverage national priorities and market demands. All projects are informed by, and tailored to, the populations that GFEMS seeks to serve. Through our partnership with the U.S. Department of State, GFEMS is working to establish sustainable change in at-risk communities, criminal justice reform, and survivor care through increased government, private sector, and community engagement.  


GFEMS will continue to share information about our portfolio, partners, and impact.

Subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn for updates on the latest developments, news, and opportunities with GFEMS. 

This article was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of State. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of State.

Vietnamese migrant workers who borrowed money estimate it would take between seven and 24 months to pay off their recruitment debt.

Modern slavery risks in the Vietnam-Taiwan migration corridor

In 2020, GFEMS funded a study, conducted by Responsible Business Alliance (RBA), in collaboration with Verité, Ulula, and the Fair Hiring Initiative, with Vietnamese migrant workers at four destination workplaces in Taiwan through an anonymous, encrypted mobile-based voice survey. The study aimed to capture insights into the recruitment and employment experiences of Vietnamese workers in Taiwan, as well as identify opportunities for improvement in labor recruitment practices in the corridor. The learnings from this pilot of a digital worker voice survey are also intended to contribute to the evidence base on digital worker voice tools, assessing their applicability for identifying risks, monitoring workplace improvements, facilitating access to remedy, and quantifying effects of anti-slavery interventions.

Select Key Findings

Fee Charging

Fee charging was prevalent across the board among the surveyed population of workers, with reported fee amounts ranging from $150 to $6,200 USD and an average fee amount $4,038 USD.

Barriers to early termination

A majority (82%) of respondents reported barriers to early termination. Many reported having to pay airfare (74% of respondents) or paying a fine (45% of respondents) if they wished to terminate their contracts early.

Lack of grievance mechanisms

Grievance mechanisms did not appear to be sufficiently available or utilized among the respondent population– only 36% of respondents reported that they had been provided with an anonymous and safe grievance channel by either their employer or recruitment agency.

Select Recommendations

Government and industry stakeholders should move toward “zero-fee” policies 

Government and industry stakeholders should move toward “zero-fee” policies that are enshrined in formal, enforceable written agreements between buyers and suppliers, as well as between suppliers and their recruitment partners. Buyers and facilities should conduct regular due diligence to determine whether workers are being required to pay recruitment fees or recruitment-related expenses, such as visa-processing or work permit fees. 

While digital channels are an effective complementary way to gather information, they should not be considered a replacement or substitute for on-site social audits or investigations. 

Digital worker engagement systems can serve as a mechanism for risk screening, baseline and impact measures, and enabling channels for workers to report grievances and access remedy. Digital technologies can enable continuous engagement with workers, filling the gap in consultation and data collection in between audits and other on-site assessments. 

For more findings and recommendations, download the briefing.

For updates on this project and others like it, subscribe to our newsletter, or follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

GFEMS, ILO support new law protecting Vietnamese migrant workers

GFEMS, ILO support new law protecting Vietnamese migrant workers

The Global Fund to End Modern Slavery (GFEMS), in collaboration with the International Labour Organization, is supporting the Legislative Reform of Labor Migration project in Vietnam. The National Assembly adopted the revised Law on Contract-Based Overseas Workers on November 13, 2020, which will improve protection for Vietnamese migrant workers and reduce vulnerability to human trafficking when it goes into effect on January 1, 2022. Now that the law has been adopted, GFEMS and the ILO are pleased to support the development of subordinate legislation to operationalize the reforms. Read the full press release from ILO:

ILO commits to supporting Viet Nam to enforce new law on Vietnamese migrant workers

HANOI (ILO News) – On International Migrants Day (18 December), the ILO welcomes the chance to improve the protection of Vietnamese migrant workers brought by the newly-revised Law on Contract-Based Vietnamese Overseas Workers. The Law, passedby the National Assembly on 13 November 2020, which will come into effect on 1 January 2022, builds upon previous Vietnamese legislation to strengthen protections for migrant workers. 

In particular, the new Law has removed brokerage commissions payable by migrant workers to recruitment agencies, and prohibited charging service charges to migrant workers who use public, non-profit entities to migrate abroad. Migrant workers who pay high recruitment fees and related costs are more vulnerable to labour exploitation. including forced labor/human trafficking.

“By reducing allowable costs chargeable to migrant workers, the Law offers greater protection from these harms,” said ILO’s Regional Labour Migration Specialist, Nilim Baruah. “When workers are indebted by high migration costs, they may be less able to leave employment when they are abused, exploited or forced to work. Removing brokerage commission from the costs permitted to be paid by migrant workers goes part way to addressing this risk.” 

For recruitment agencies, the new Law retains certain categories of costs chargeable to migrant workers, namely the service charge and deposits, but sets limits and will detail the amounts allowable in subordinate legislation to be developed over 2021. The Law states that service charges in subordinate legislation should not exceed the ceiling of three months’ salary, which recruitment agencies can take from workers and receiving partners. Setting this      ceiling for these costs will enable migrant workers to make informed decisions about migration, and for awareness to be raised about the costs of regular migration. 

The Law prohibits discrimination and forced labour within labour migration and permits workers who are subjected to, or threatened with, maltreatment, sexual harassment or forced labour to unilaterally terminate their employment contracts without financial penalty. Under the new Law, recruitment agencies may have their licence revoked if they use deceitful advertising or other deceptive means to recruit workers for the purpose of forced labour/     trafficking in persons or other forms of exploitation. 

Additionally, as part of pre-departure orientation training, recruitment agencies are required to provide      knowledge and skills in the prevention of forced labour/trafficking in persons, and gender-based violence    

“The Vietnamese Government’s commitment to prevention of forced labour in labour migration is evident in the passing of this revised Law,” said Baruah. “The Law takes the critical first step towards reducing recruitment fees and related costs charged to migrant workers.”

The ILO’s Private Employment Agencies Convention, 1997 (No. 181) and ILO’s General principles and operational guidelines for fair recruitment state that “workers shall not be charged directly or indirectly, in whole or in part, any fees or related costs for their recruitment” and that “prospective employers, public or private, or their intermediaries, and not the workers, should bear the cost of recruitment.”      

“The ILO is committed to supporting the process of development of subordinate legislation through social dialogue, and implementation of the Law throughout 2021 and into the future,” said ILO Viet Nam Director, Chang-Hee Lee. 

This year’s International Migrants Day celebrates the 30th anniversary of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. The passage of the Law on Contract-Based Vietnamese Overseas Workers is an important step towards labour migration being an empowering and enriching experience for all Vietnamese migrant workers.

Subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn for updates on the latest developments, news, and opportunities with GFEMS. 

IMPACT Project to Build Awareness, Capacity for Overseas Filipinx Workers

IMPACT Project to Build Awareness, Capacity for Overseas Filipinx Workers

Despite sincere efforts by the Philippine Government to protect Overseas Filipinx Workers (OFWs), human trafficking is especially prevalent in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). Weaker institutions, inadequately equipped personnel, and lack of community awareness pose significant challenges to effective anti-trafficking in persons (TIP) efforts. Low awareness of the risks connected to labor migration – along with the common conflation of human trafficking, smuggling, other forms of irregular migration, or other crimes – causes victims not to self-identify as such, and vulnerable communities not to recognize the warning signs. 

With funding from the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, GFEMS is working to address the challenges in BARMM by partnering with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to build awareness of trafficking among the at-risk communities of BARMM and build capacity for pre-departure training service providers. IOM has a large team on the ground in BARMM, impressive expertise in local dynamics, and a previous history of successful awareness campaigns in the region.

To build awareness among vulnerable communities, IOM will work directly with the most at-risk populations to develop key messages that will be delivered through community-led awareness raising campaigns. These campaigns will primarily focus on behavioral change communications using the latest in evidence-driven communications techniques. These campaigns will target prospective migrants with little understanding of the risk of migration in order to equip them with the knowledge to increase their resilience.

GFEMS and IOM will also work to build the capacity of service providers, enabling them to train prospective labor migrants on labor migration risks, and ensure those migrants have knowledge of and access to quality support and resources, and are more resilient in the face of TIP risks and drivers. The capacity building process includes facilitating regular in-region meetings among government stakeholders to provide them with more data collection, analysis, and reporting opportunities, which will ultimately result in more evidence-based decision making and more effective anti-TIP government initiatives. In parallel, IOM will work with service providers to develop context-specific orientation materials for departing migrants, further optimizing pre-departure training.

Over the course of the project, GFEMS and IOM will conduct extensive learning and evaluation activities to determine the effectiveness of the interventions. Questions explored in the project will include: 

  • Does providing context-sensitized, pre-departure orientation material improve reach among vulnerable OFWs?
  • Do targeted, context-sensitive community engagement and awareness initiatives increase awareness of TIP risks and drivers among at-risk communities?
  • Is it possible to create early warning systems at the community level that allow us to identify individuals, families, and social segments who are most at-risk of TIP?
  • To what extent is BARMM able to influence unsafe migration dynamics that transcend its borders? 

GFEMS looks forward to sharing more information about this project as it is implemented, and is grateful for the support of the U.S. Department of State and the partnership of IOM. 

To stay updated on this project, and projects like it, subscribe to the GFEMS newsletter and follow us on Twitter. 

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This article and the IOM project were funded by a grant from the United States Department of State. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.

Victim-Centered Case Management System Launches in Philippines, Streamlining Response from Government Agencies

Victim-Centered Case Management System Launches in Philippines, Streamlining Response from Government Agencies

The complex inter-agency coordination that must take place to ensure effective prosecutions and survivor services have been a significant barrier to delivery of justice for human trafficking cases. Khrizzy Avila, GFEMS Country Coordinator for the Philippines, states that “Labor trafficking cases involving Overseas Filipinx Workers (OFWs) are often complex and require quick and appropriate actions from multiple government agencies. These types of cases are often left unacted upon or suffer from major delays in agency responses. As a result, trafficked OFWs are often denied access to justice and grievance mechanisms and they lose interest in pursuing cases against their traffickers.”

With the launch of the Integrated Case Management System (ICMS), important strides are being made to address this longstanding issue. The ICMS is a digital case management system that tracks trafficking cases involving OFWs, ensures a harmonized and victim-centered response, and improves inter-agency coordination. As Avila stated, “The ICMS is the first of its kind to provide Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) member agencies with the tools to fully integrate their actions and services for trafficked OFWs.”

With support from GFEMS, the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute, Inc. is making significant headway on implementing the ICMS with government agencies in the Philippines. Key government agencies are now partnering with the Ople Center to clear the backlog of cases and move towards using the system as a contemporaneous case management system. It will be used by government agencies to pursue cases against human traffickers, while ensuring proper legal, repatriation, and reintegration assistance is delivered to OFW victims. Specifically, the ICMS facilitates survivors’ access to services such as counseling, temporary shelter, education, and livelihood programs. Avila says, “The system tracks the services delivered to OFWs after government caseworkers and social workers assess their needs. Service providers are able to recommend specific types of services, and endorse their access to available facilities.”

The ICMS exemplifies the Fund’s vision of combating modern slavery by leveraging the power of technology. The Ople Center and GFEMS hope to increase the reach of the ICMS by raising awareness, resources, and expanding its use to region-specific task forces. Soon, online trainings and refresher courses will be added. The ICMS developers will continue to make changes based on feedback from participants. Eventually, the program will be available not only for OFW cases, but for all survivors of human trafficking.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the ICMS has proved even more crucial because government officials and other stakeholders are working remotely and the number of cases is increasing exponentially. Avila explains, “The ICMS is a great step forward in providing better care and services to OFW-victims of trafficking in persons. The ICMS launch this year has been particularly relevant due to current limitations brought on by community quarantine and the lockdown of government offices. There is a more compelling need to respond to cases and deliver services online than ever before.”

The ICMS aims to create a coherent, comprehensive mechanism of action that will combat slavery at its core and end impunity for traffickers. Avila concludes, “The ICMS will empower the OFWs or their next of kin in managing their own cases and charting their own paths for healing and reintegration. They will have knowledge about the status of their cases, which agencies are doing what, and the reasons for any delays. The ICMS will enable the trafficked OFWs to become more active participants in their pursuit for justice.” Through multi-stakeholder partnerships and more responsive complaint and reintegration mechanisms, GFEMS and the Ople Center are fighting back against exploitation and ensuring that all exploited people have access to justice.

To stay updated on this project, and projects like it, subscribe to the GFEMS newsletter and follow us on Twitter.

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This article and the Ople Center project were funded by a grant from the United States Department of State. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State