Non-binding, informal processes, “best practices”, “voluntary” frameworks – all fine and good. But once more, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has demonstrated to be the place where legally binding agreements that benefit labour migrants can be reached. During its annual meeting, the International Labour Conference (ILC) has adopted on June 11, 2014, a new legally binding ILO Protocol on Forced Labour, aiming to “advance prevention, protection and compensation measures, as well as to intensify efforts to eliminate contemporary forms of slavery”. The protocol is a much-needed update forthe existing ILO Convention 29 on Forced Labour that was adopted in 1930 but did not sufficiently address practices such as human trafficking. The accompanying Recommendation that was also agreed upon should provide technical guidance on its implementation.
The Forced 1930 Labour Convention can be found here:
There is also the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention from 1957:
Before the ILC it had to be decided whether to adopt only a recommendation or a protocol as well. After it was decided to aim for the more far-reaching goal, government, employer and worker delegates (representing the tripartite structure of the ILO) adopted the protocol and the recommendation with 437 votes for, 27 abstentions and 8 against.
It surely would be interesting to see who abstained/voted against it. I will add this information as well as a link to the document as soon as it is available; in addition it would be interesting to see how for example Qatar voted.
What are the benefits of the new document? At this stage I can only quote the ILO/ILC according to which it “strengthens the international legal framework by creating new obligations to prevent forced labour, to protect victims and to provide access to remedy, such as compensation for material and physical harm.”
Among these measures is the requirement for governments “to take measures to better protect workers, in particular migrant labourers, from fraudulent and abusive recruitment practices and emphasizes the role of employers and workers in the fight against forced labour”.
According to David Garner, President of the ILC Committee on Forced Labour and Australian Government representative “The new instruments will complement and strengthen existing international law, in particular the UN Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children.”
Migrants’ rights organisations welcomed the adoption. William Gois, Regional Coordinator of the Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA) expressed that “Migrant Forum in Asia who has been part of the process welcomes this historical milestone as it signals a strong political commitment to end forced labour. May this commitment be soon put into practice and that governments move quickly to ratify and enforce the Protocol.”
Human Rights Watch (HRW) expressed hope that the adoption “will advance the fight to prevent forced labor, and to protect and compensate the estimated 21 million victims worldwide”.
After years of non-progress, the protocol marks the second agreement to benefit migrant workers within only a few years: In 2011 the “decent work for domestic workers” convention was adopted, including the rights of migrant domestic workers.
Opting for a legally binding instrument is a marked contrast to the approach International Organization for Migrations’ (IOM) which is favoring voluntary processes (not only when it comes to “voluntary repatriation” but also initiatives) such as the International Recruitment Integrity System (IRIS).
Both organizations are competing for the role of ““the leading organisation in migration”: