Press release

New support to protect girls and women from ‘modern day slavery’

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

International Development Minister Lynne Featherstone launches Work in Freedom initiative to help tackle labour trafficking.

A major new project to help prevent 100,000 girls and women across South Asia from falling victim to the worst forms of labour trafficking was launched today, by the Department for International Development and the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

The UK government is investing £9.75 million over five years into the Work in Freedom initiative to help tackle known labour trafficking routes between South Asia, such as Bangladesh and Nepal, to the Gulf States including Jordan, United Arab Emirates and Lebanon. Around 21 million people are trafficked and in forced labour worldwide, the majority are from Asia with women and girls most affected.

Every year millions of men and women from poor communities migrate to find employment so they can send money home to support their families. They get jobs such as live-in domestic workers cooking, cleaning and looking after families or in garment factories. But many end-up being deceived and trafficked into jobs with extremely low wages or don’t get paid at all, their movement is restricted, their living and working conditions are very poor, and they often suffer physical and sexual abuse.

The programme will reach tens of thousands of women and girls and aims to:

  • provide 50,000 women with skills and pre-departure training and other support to help them avoid being trafficked and secure a legal contract and decent wage;
  • Help 30,000 women achieve greater economic empowerment so they are better able to support themselves and their families. This will be done through helping women understand their rights, enable them to organize collectively and vocational training to help ensure access to decent work opportunities in destination countries;
  • Help thousands more migrant women to avoid paying extortionate, illegal recruitment fees by cracking down on unscrupulous recruitment practices and encouraging recruitment agencies to sign-up to ethical principles and practices; and
  • Prevent child labour by helping thousands of girls under 16 years to stay in school, so they aren’t compelled to migrate for work.

International Development Minister Lynne Featherstone said:

Income earned from migrant workers abroad and sent back home provides a vital source of support to families in developing countries worth billions of pounds and many times more than the global aid budget. But it is appalling that hundreds of years since the abolition of the slave trade, girls and women living in poverty are still trafficked into abusive jobs or forced to work in unacceptably poor conditions.

Women who want to migrate for work to lift themselves and their families out of poverty should be able to do so in safe and secure environments with proper terms and conditions. Work in Freedom will help more than 100,000 women and girls in South Asia, a trafficking hotspot, with practical support and advice so that they can earn a living and avoid the dangers of trafficking.

ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder said:

Labour mobility is a reality of our globalized economy but with it comes an increased risk of labour trafficking, particularly for the poorest and most vulnerable.

We estimate over $12 billion worth of income a year is withheld from those in forced labour in Asia and the Middle East. This is money that should be helping lift families out of poverty.

This ground-breaking partnership with the UK government is a vital step in making migration for work a safe and legitimate means of improving livelihoods.

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine will be monitoring and evaluating the project. Professor Peter Piot, Director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said:

Given the large numbers of women and girls putting themselves at risk of harm to support their families, it is exceedingly urgent that we seek strong evidence on what works to prevent human trafficking and stop extreme exploitation.

DFID recognises that, to date, the field of trafficking has had very weak evidence. We are pleased to lead this intervention research and draw on our expertise to build a more robust evidence-base on what works to help working women improve their lives and livelihoods.

The Department for International Development, ILO and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine are today hosting a 2 day conference bringing together governments, international and regional institutions, private sector, trade unions and NGOs to create a network of organisations to take action against trafficking.

Notes to editors:

  1. In 2010 money sent home to developing countries from migrant workers were estimated to be £242 billion, more than 3 times the global aid budget.
  2. People trafficking is considered by the UN to be the third-largest global criminal industry behind drugs and arms trafficking. To date most of the international effort on human trafficking has focused on sexual exploitation although labour trafficking is more common.