HO CHI MINH CITY - The International Labor Organization in Vietnam has called for improved conditions for migrants -- not just those who were among the 39 dead in a British truck container this month, but also migrants crossing the Mediterranean and in the Americas.
The organization called on officials to ensure there are safe and regular channels for migration rather than putting the burden on migrants. It did not refer to the deaths in Britain, now being investigated as possible manslaughter and human trafficking, but it joins the voices expressing concern about the dangerous conditions and the structural problems that could have allowed the deaths to happen.
While globalization has fostered the flow of companies and capital across borders, it has not done so for workers, pushing them toward trafficking. The ILO said it is up to governments, employers, recruitment agencies and trade unions to change policies and practices. Its recommendations include coordination between countries of origin and destination, shifting the costs of migration from workers to employers, and making legal immigration less expensive and complex so migrants don’t resort to being trafficked.
Coordination would increase the odds that a country would receive migrants with the skills it needs. Aging Japan, for example, works with other Asian countries that have large work forces, such as Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Philippines, to train workers on their way to Japan or looking for jobs there before they get to Japan. The idea is to match countries with labor surpluses with those that have labor shortages.
The ILO suggested it is not helpful to focus on individuals, but on systemic change. For instance, researchers found that when the United States and Europe restricted migration, they did not stop migrants, but merely pushed them toward more dangerous channels.
“Irregular labor migration increases migrant workers’ vulnerability to exploitation, and limits the channels available to them to seek assistance and justice while abroad, as well as rendering them vulnerable to punishment by fines and other sanctions in Vietnam,” Chang-Hee Lee, the ILO country director in Hanoi, said Tuesday.
His statement came nearly a week after police discovered the bodies outside London. The discovery has led to a manhunt in Northern Ireland, with one man being criminally charged, and confirmation that at least some of the 39 people in the truck were from Vietnam. Their deaths have put a spotlight on human trafficking and the kinds of people the ILO said “should be protected from abusive and fraudulent recruitment practices.”
Vietnamese and British officials are working to identify those found in the container truck. Among Asian migrants, Vietnamese pay the highest costs to brokers, and the number of migrants is rising, according to the ILO. Its joint study with the International Organization of Migration found that roughly 75% of migrant Vietnamese “reported experiencing labor rights abuses while working abroad.”
The ILO’s recommendations didn’t focus on criminalization. Instead the ILO also recommended authorities ensure migrants have access to the judicial system; many migrants, lacking documentation, are wary of reporting abuses to the authorities.