General Discussion on workplace exploitation and workplace protection commemorating the tenth anniversary of the entry into force of the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families
7 April 2014
Distinguished members of the Committee
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to welcome you here to Palais Wilson as we embark on a General Discussion on Workplace Exploitation and Workplace Protection with the Committee on Migrant Workers.
Let me also say that is an honour for me to celebrate with you this year the tenth anniversary of the entry into force of the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.
The keynote speaker, Ms. Michelle Leighton, of the International Labour Organization, and the experts on today’s panel bring a world of perspectives and experience to our discussion, and I know we all look forward to hearing from them. Like the members of the Committee, they come from different backgrounds, yet they all share the same strong commitment to human rights, and specifically, the rights of migrant workers. I would like to extend a very warm welcome to Ms. Leighton and to the distinguished panelists.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We all know that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, and that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms, without distinction of any kind. Looking at the situation of migrants in countries around the world today, this promise sounds a little hollow. While all migrants can be vulnerable to human rights violations, we know that those who are in an irregular situation are much more at risk of discrimination, exclusion, exploitation and abuse at all stages of the migration process.
Today, there are more than 232 million international migrants in the world. And yet, this remains a largely invisible population. Many migrants, particularly those in an irregular situation, tend to live and work in the shadows, afraid to complain, denied rights and freedoms that we take for granted, and disproportionately vulnerable to discrimination and marginalization.
Already back in 2006, under the leadership of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Global Migration Group, which is an inter-agency group comprising 16 United Nations and other international entities concerned with migration, came together to express its deep concern about the situation of this particularly vulnerable group of migrants, noting that the irregular situation in which international migrants may find themselves should not deprive them of their human rights. In addition to the documented discrimination, exclusion, exploitation faced by migrants in an irregular situation, the GMG also noted that these individuals are also more likely to be targeted by xenophobes and racists, unscrupulous employers, criminal traffickers and smugglers. Women in an irregular situation are doubly vulnerable owing to the high risk of sexual exploitation.
Forced to remain at the margins of society, and often excluded from the formal economy, most irregular migrants work in low skilled and unregulated sectors of the labour market, in jobs that are often dirty, dangerous and difficult: antithesis of “decent work”. In addition to dangerous working conditions, they have little or no protection of their labour rights. They are often subject to exploitative conditions, including violence, torture, and forced labour, with little recourse to remedies due to their situation of irregularity. According to the ILO, almost 21 million people are trapped in forced labour. And almost 19 million of these are exploited by private individuals or enterprises. Of this number, it is estimated that 4.5million are victims of forced sexual exploitation. Domestic work, agriculture, construction, manufacturing and entertainment are among the sectors most concerned.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The High Commissioner has made promoting and protecting the human rights of all migrants an integral part of the work of OHCHR. According to the High Commissioner, “the protection of migrants is an urgent and growing human rights challenge. Governments have obligations to ensure that xenophobic violence, racism and related intolerance against migrants and their communities have no place in their societies”.
An important part of OHCHR’s strategy on migration is to advocate for the effective protection of all migrants, wherever they are and regardless of their legal status. Migrants whose rights are protected are able to live in dignity and security and, in turn, are better able to contribute to society both economically and socially than those who are exploited, marginalized and excluded.
More than 30 years ago, States recognized that migrants needed specific protection and started deliberations for the Convention we have today: The Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. This Convention does not conjure up more rights or new rights for migrants. It does not oblige States to regularize the situation of irregular migrant workers. It does not reach above general international human rights standards which protect all human beings. However it does give specific form to these standards so that they are meaningful in the particular context of migration. With this year’s 10th anniversary of the Convention’s entry into force, it is high time that same States that negotiated the Convention unblock the political will to ratify and effectively implement this important treaty.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In October 2013 at the UN High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development, Member States of the United Nations reaffirmed the need to protect effectively the rights and fundamental freedoms of all migrants, regardless of their migration status, and to respect the rights of migrants in their workplaces. They explicitly declared to “work towards an effective and inclusive agenda on international migration that integrates development and respects human rights”. This is a firm commitment from which to work towards a rights-based vision in migration in the post-2015 framework to be adopted next year.
I would like to close by paying tribute to the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, which has worked with competence and dedication to assist States parties in complying with and implementing their treaty obligations under the Convention. The Committee itself has made clear that although countries have a sovereign right to determine conditions of entry and stay in their territories, they also have an obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of all individuals under their jurisdiction, regardless of their nationality or origin and regardless of their immigration status.
Human rights are not mere aspirations. They are not a matter of charity. Human rights are inalienable entitlements of every human being, wherever they are and whatever their status.
I thank you for your attention.