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Press Release

13 Dec 2023

New database exposes business inaction on migrant worker abuse

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FIFA, Meta and Tesco named in reports of abuse.

Ahead of International Migrants Day 2023 (18 December), a new database from the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) looks at the human and labour rights abuses against migrant workers. Publicly reported abuses from the past year reveal a concerning snapshot of how migrant workers have been mistreated globally – with companies failing to detect, mitigate and remedy harms against this highly vulnerable workforce, whose often-cheap labour contributes to their soaring profits.

Protection for migrant workers is achievable for businesses that are clear on their responsibilities to respect human rights – as they should be already.

What have we discovered from migrant workers reporting abuse?

BHRRC data revealed migrant workers have suffered from some of the worst forms of abuse over the past year. A total of 613 cases of abuse, linked to 389 named companies, were recorded between 1 December 2022 until 30 November 2023.

The data highlights the threats migrants reportedly face, which industries benefit from abuse and which migration corridors are most dangerous for the workers who use them.

Worryingly, the scope and scale of abuse is believed to be much higher than these figures indicate – owing to restrictions on journalistic freedoms, lack of access to remedy or grievance mechanisms by migrant workers and the threat of reprisal for workers who said they were afraid to speak up.

Key takeaways from the data included:

  • The most common category of abuse recorded was violations relating to employment standards (wage, working hour or leave violations, arbitrary dismissal or excessive performance targets) (64%). 
  • This was followed by arbitrary denial of freedoms (36%), occupational health and safety breaches (36%) and unfair recruitment practices (34%).
  • Intimidatory, violent or harassing behaviour was also a concern (29%), closely followed by inadequate living standards (28%).
  • At least 90 migrant workers died of alleged corporate abuse or neglect. Most deaths (83%) were explicitly linked to breaches in occupational health and safety standards.
  • Migrant workers were charged recruitment fees in 27% cases, destined for workplaces across Europe, the Gulf, Southeast Asia, the USA and Australasia.

Who is affected?

Low-wage, temporary or undocumented workers are particularly vulnerable to labour rights abuse, while gender and nationality also shape the form and extent of abuse experienced by migrant workers.

  • Migrant workers most frequently impacted by cases of abuse were from Nepal, the Philippines and India.
  • Asia-Pacific is the highest sending and receiving region for migrants, with 30% abuses recorded in the region, while the Americas, Europe and the Middle East are also significant receiving regions.
  • The hotspots for abuse in each region were Malaysia, UK, USA and Qatar.

Who is responsible?

Companies depend upon and amass huge wealth from the employment of migrant workers, often profiting from their abuse. Transformative, structural change is urgently required – particularly from companies at the top of the supply chains who have the resources, leverage and responsibility to propel this change. 

  • The majority of companies we could identify linked to abuses were headquartered in North America and Europe, with USA, UK and Qatar-headquartered companies most frequently named.
  • Agri-food supply chains were linked to the highest number of migrant worker abuse (37%). This was followed by construction and engineering (17%).

Top named companies for 2023:

The companies most frequently linked to cases recorded in the database through their operations, business relationships, or supply and value chains were:

  • FIFA (14 cases)
  • Meta (9 cases)
  • Tesco (9 cases)
  • Ahold Delhaize & Hannaford (5 cases)

Fifty-four named companies were repeat offenders (linked to two or more cases); over 90% of those were headquartered in high-income countries. For more information on named companies linked to abuse, please get in touch.

Why is this indicative of a wider problem?

Migrants make up a significant workforce of global supply chains, with companies amassing huge wealth from their employment and often profiting from their abuse. Despite being a key feature of multinational supply chains – with 164 million international migrant workers contributing a projected USD840 billion in 2023 – they are facing systemic, widespread and severe human rights abuses across regions and sectors.

2023 saw multiple converging crises which exacerbated human rights risks to migrant workers. Conflict, military rule and a global cost-of-living crisis saw disproportionate impacts to the rights of migrant workers, while record-breaking temperatures also saw workers experiencing the most extreme impacts of the climate crisis. Meanwhile, government immigration policies, particularly temporary labour programmes, are failing to safeguard migrant workers upon whom societies have come to depend on to fill shortages in key industries.

Isobel Archer, Senior Migrant Rights Researcher, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, said: “Migrant workers are often the invisible glue holding the global economy together. Yet, instead of being recognised for their value, migrant workers are subjected to a range of human rights abuses – often facilitated by government regulations and permitted to continue by multinationals at the top of supply chains, who are failing to monitor, investigate and remedy abuse sufficiently. Companies must realise it’s simply not enough to publish general labour rights policies; they must recognise specific vulnerabilities and urgently respond to them by adopting tailored and migrant worker-centric risk assessment, due diligence and remedy processes.

“In the past year, migrant workers have endured recruitment fee-charging and exploitative debt, wage theft, employers taking advantage of precarious immigration statuses, as well as threats and physical abuse. Government policies have exacerbated their vulnerabilities and climate change has created unbearable and lethal working environments. It is high time businesses recognise the consequence of their inaction and lack of safeguards. 

“Our recommendations are clear and achievable and what’s more they should be recognizable to business: companies who have engaged with their responsibilities to respect human rights in even the most superficial way will know that executing these principles are within reach. We cannot let this persist into 2024, with business continuing as usual for the next year and abuse going unchecked and unremedied for migrant workers.”

// ENDS 

Notes to editors:

  • Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is an international NGO that tracks the human rights impacts of companies across the globe. 
  • Every year on 18th December, the world marks International Migrants Day, a day set aside to recognise the important contribution of migrants while highlighting the challenges they face.
  • BHRRC’s database contains information on allegations of migrant worker abuse across the globe, including breakdowns of the dataset by geography, sector or types of abuse reported by workers. If you require region or sector-specific information, please get in touch.
  • Further information on our methodology can be found here.
  • Allegations linked to companies are displayed on companies’ pages on our website; companies can be searched for here.

Media contact: Priyanka Mogul, Media Officer, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, [email protected]