Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, I’m delighted to be here to launch the Work in Freedom programme. It marks the start of an important new partnership – not just between DFID, the ILO and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine – but also with governments, businesses, NGOs and others.
The opportunity…and the challenge
Every year, millions of people in South Asia leave home in search of work. They aspire to lift themselves and their families out of poverty by sending money home.
Governments in South Asia actively promote labour migration, and are positive about the ability of remittances to boost GDP.
And countries in the Middle East understand the importance of foreign labour to meet their own labour demands.
Sounds like a win-win-win situation? And it is. But in some cases, it goes wrong….
When it does, it can become a story of trafficking and forced labour.
People who are desperate for work can fall victim to local recruitment agents who charge extortionate fees to arrange their travel, often leaving migrants and their families in debt for many years. When workers arrive in their destination country, their passports and documents are frequently taken and held by their employer. They may find they’ve been deceived about the job they had been promised, the wages they’ll be paid, and find themselves working extremely long hours, threatened, beaten, and unable to leave.
For women migrant workers, finding a job abroad could be a real opportunity to seek a better life. But she will be more likely to experience sexual and physical abuse and earn less money. If she is trafficked and somehow manages to escape and get home, she could be shunned by her family and community. They may be heavily in debt from sending her abroad, and she might be deemed unmarriageable if she’s been abused. Ironically and tragically, she may well end up on the streets as a sex worker for lack of any alternative, or try her luck migrating again.
Trafficking as a violence against women and girls issue
Trafficking is one of the worst forms of violence against women and girls. It is a crime and a human rights violation. It costs women their quality of life, and results in inter-generational cycles of poverty and abuse.
Paid work, on the other hand, offers women economic independence. It gives them choice and control over her own resources, the chance to see the outside world, and aspire to a different future. With their own income women are more likely to educate their children, and improve the health and nutrition of their families. If girls have the chance to complete secondary school, they are more likely to get a skilled job, marry later in life and have fewer children. These are transformational changes for the better.
That’s why the UK government is committed to women and girls and why it is one of DFID’s top three priorities. We believe that by changing the lives of women and girls in the poorest countries, the prospects for development and poverty reduction are doubled. As Ministerial Champion for tackling violence against women and girls overseas, this is a cause I am personally and passionately engaged in every day.
The new programme
And so I am proud to be launching the Work in Freedom programme today, which is innovative, inspiring and aims to change the landscape of trafficking and forced labour for women and girls.
Its foundations are built on partnerships and collaboration. Many of us here today, not least governments in the region, are engaged in positive efforts to tackle trafficking and forced labour. However no single agency can do this alone; no one intervention can address such a complex set of problems. This programme is about working together to ensure our efforts achieve more than the sum of their parts.
The programme will bring tangible benefits to more than 100,000 women and girls, while also helping to change the structures and systems that perpetuate trafficking, to prevent it from happening in the long-term.
The UK is providing £9.75m for the five year programme. With specific focus on the domestic work and garment sectors, it will work in three ‘labour-sending’ countries – India, Nepal and Bangladesh – and four ‘destination’ countries: Jordan, Lebanon, the UAE and India.
The aim is to interrupt all the vulnerable points along the migrant worker’s journey, helping women to migrate in a way that is safe, informed and empowered, have a job that respects their dignity and rights, and allows them to send wages to their families, and return home safely. It will also keep thousands of girls under 16 in school to help prevent child trafficking.
The programme aspires to be cutting edge and innovative because it has analysed the problem carefully, piloted different approaches and - most importantly - is based on the stories of migrant and trafficked women themselves, who we asked directly what they need from the international community. Critically, we are also aiming to build a credible evidence base on what works and why. Amazingly, despite millions of pounds of investment, there is little robust evidence on how to prevent trafficking in the long-term.
We’ve also selected high-calibre organisations to help us deliver this ambition - the ILO and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine are leaders in their fields. I am delighted to have the Director General of the ILO, Guy Ryder and the Director of the London School, Peter Piot on this panel with me, as well as Nalini Nayak from SEWA in India.
It is appalling that today - hundreds of years since the abolition of the slave trade - girls and women living in poverty are still trafficked into abusive jobs. On behalf of the British Government, I look forward to working with you all on tackling this vitally important issue.