United Nations Responsible Business and Human Rights Forum, Asia-Pacific
Day 1 | 7 June
Migrant Workers in Supply Chains: What does the future hold?
There are more people on the move each year, driven by complex causes from demographic shifts, climate change and poverty to educational and livelihood opportunities. In 2020, Asia received 85.6 million migrants, of which 68.5 million came from Asia itself. Migrant workers are present in numerous sectors of the global economy; particularly agriculture, construction, manufacturing and hospitality, performing a variety of tasks and playing a crucial role in the functioning of supply chains. The demand for international workforce and movements; however, is not met with the equal growth in facilitated safe migration corridors, forcing many migrants to take risks during the process. This is particularly evident in Asia- the Pacific where the modern slavery estimates increased from 40.3 million in 2016 to 50 million in 2021, of which 28 million were trapped in situations of forced labour.
Notwithstanding the importance of labour migration for the globalized economy, migrant workers remain disproportionately exposed to exploitation and abuse. This occurs throughout their migration journey, where migrants often face high recruitment costs and fees leading to debt bondage, non-payment of wages, excessive working hours, fear of deportation, restrictions on freedom of movement, among others. The Asia-Pacific region also experiences high levels of irregular migration, due to limited opportunities for regular migration pathways and high tolerance for informal labour arrangements.
Meanwhile, the outlook of migration is shaped by a range of drivers; some of which create an opportunity for migrant workers, while other places them in further vulnerabilities. These drivers are income differentials between countries, demographic shifts with a focus on ageing population, economic transformation and infrastructure development, technological shifts and automation in the workplace, and climate change (see Spotlight on Labour Migration in Asia). The nexus between global supply chains and labour migration drivers is complex and multifaceted. For example, global supply chains can both facilitate and exacerbate these income differentials by creating demand for low-waged employment in certain sectors and regions. Technological shifts and automation in the workplace may also reduce the demand for lower-skilled migrants and lead to job losses in certain industries, pushing for skills transformation and adaptation among the labour force, both internally and internationally.
While the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) provide a framework for the States and all business enterprises to individually and collectively protect, respect, and remedy human and labour rights, how it translates into implementation, specially to the changing dynamics of future migration outlook, remain unclear. Taking into account the key trends and their implication on future migration patterns, stakeholders should act collaboratively to address urgent gaps and obstacles; including but not limited to high migration fees and related cost, migrant workers’ limited access to social security and public services in destination countries, compromised living conditions, lack of cross-border skills recognition, and lack of occupational safety in order to contribute to a resilient supply chains and migration ecosystem in the region.
About the session
This session intends to explore the shifting dynamics of migration in Asia and the Pacific region, zooming in at the key drivers that formulate a future outlook of labour migration, and the causes of increasing vulnerability for labour migrants in global supply chains. The session will also explore recommendations for policymakers and businesses to address gaps in the current migration systems and align their responses with the international guidance and principles.
The key objectives of this session are to:
To understand the shifting dynamics of labour migration in the context of global supply chains, and how these are likely to evolve in the future.
To explore how policy makers and businesses can aid effective labour migration governance, particularly in line with the UNGPs and other international guidance and principles, to safeguard human and labour rights of migrant workers in global supply chains.
Panelists will reflect on the following questions:
- Will global labour supply chains continue to rely on labour migrants, and how will the changing migration dynamics impact that?
How can stakeholders ensure migrants, especially lower-skilled and women migrant workers, are not left behind in the future trends of labour migration?
What existing gaps in migration governance and business responsibility to provide basic protection of migrant workers persist and need to be addressed urgently?
What can States and businesses do better to protect migrant workers in the region?
Which areas of migration governance are witnessing strengthening in Asia-Pacific?
Which areas will need greater attention in light of the changing migration dynamics?