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Monday, November 16 • 09:00 - 10:15
Addressing vulnerabilities of migrant workers: Covid-19 and beyond

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SeSsion organized by the Working Group on business and human rights in collaboration with Migrant Forum in Asia and Migrant-Rights.org

Brief description of the session:
The session brings together the private sector, civil society organizations, government, and human rights advocates to discuss the specific vulnerabilities faced by migrant workers, particularly in the context of their mobility. It will focus on challenges faced by migrant workers in times of Covid-19 in two settings: (i) internal migrants in a country such as India, and (ii) cross border migrants in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region. The session aims to identify lessons drawn from this crisis, discuss rights-based solutions to address concerns related to migrant workers, and discuss the role of governments, National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) and the private sector in ensuring that the rights and welfare of migrant workers are protected in times of Covid-19 and beyond.

Key objectives of the session:
  • To understand better the vulnerabilities of migrant workers both within a country and across borders
  • To explore practices that the State and the private sector can adopt to protect the rights of migrants in times of crisis
  • To discuss lessons learned and good practices in addressing issues of internal and cross border migrants 
  • To explore ways forward in ‘building back better’ post-pandemic

Key questions:
  • What are the lessons that we can learn in how governments addressed issues of          migrant workers during the Covid-19 pandemic and what could be the impetus for change?
  • How do we ensure labour standards are not a casualty in times of crisis?
  • How can states and businesses collaborate to build back better and prevent exploitation of migrant workers in supply chains?
  • What role could NHRIs play in safeguarding the rights of migrant workers, including in cross-border cases?

Background to the discussion:
Dwindling sustainable livelihoods is driving millions away from their homes, often from rural areas, into potentially more lucrative jobs in urban and semi-urban areas. Urban poverty, however, looks quite different from the neediness they face at home. Separated from extended family, migrants live on the margins of these societies, without sufficient access to the limited public welfare (including Public Distribution Systems) that may exist at home. In the middle of the crisis, India also weakened its labour code to create a more investment-friendly environment and in this process making workers even more vulnerable to exploitation. India has one of the largest numbers of internal migrants, emigrants and immigrants. Every single one of these groups faced acute vulnerabilities during the pandemic. Several thousand internal migrants walked hundreds of kilometers back home with all their belongings strapped to their backs, as without jobs it was unaffordable for them to continue living in urban areas.

Asian and African migrant workers in the GCC region were among those heavily affected by the pandemic. Hundreds of thousands lost their jobs and were put on forced leave without pay. At the height of the quarantine restrictions, their mobility was restricted in multiple ways – unable to change employers, accessing justice mechanisms, unable to return home as airports were closed, and reluctant to return home as it would mean losing due wages and entitlements. There have been some significant reforms to the Kafala (sponsorship) system, but the power equation remains predominantly in favour of employers. Migrants were excluded in the responses developed by countries of destination to address the pandemic. As borders opened up and governments started repatriating workers, many were sent home without their salaries or end of service benefits.

The session will help inform the WG’s project ‘Business and human rights: towards a decade of global implementation' (also known as “UNGPs 10+ / Next Decade BHR”). Centred around the upcoming tenth anniversary of the UNGPs in 2021, the project is taking stock of practice to date, identifying gaps and challenges, and developing a vision and roadmap for scaling up implementation of the UNGPs over the course of the next decade.

avatar for William Gois

William Gois

Regional Coordinator, Migrant Forum in Asia

avatar for Vani Saraswathi

Vani Saraswathi

Associate Editor and Director of Projects, Migrant-Rights.Org
Vani Saraswathi is the Associate Editor and Director of Projects, Migrant-Rights.org and the author of Stories of Origin: The Invisible Lives of Migrants in the Gulf. The book is an anthology of reporting from seven origin countries over a period of three years.Vani moved to Qatar in 1999, working with several local and regional publications, and launching some of Qatar’s leading periodicals during her 17-year stint there. During her stay in... Read More →
avatar for Sanjay Kumar Verma

Sanjay Kumar Verma

Sr. President & Unit Head, Birla Cellulose- Aditya Birla Group
Sanjay Kumar Verma is Sr. President & Unit Head of Birla Cellulose – a large , Modern Viscose Staple Fiber Manufacturing facility of Grasim Industries Limited –Flag ship companies of Aditya Birla Group of India. He has been associated with Textile Industry for over 30 years which... Read More →
avatar for Namrata Raju

Namrata Raju

India Director, Equidem
Namrata, an experienced labour migration expert, leads Equidem’s India work and collaborates closely with Equidem’s initiatives across South Asia, South East Asia, East Africa and the GCC. With over a decade of research experience, Namrata has worked on a range of labour migration... Read More →

Monday November 16, 2020 09:00 - 10:15 CET
Plenary Room