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Essay: Human trafficking in the Philippines

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The Dutch minister of foreign affairs, Bert Koenders, had in 2015 a conversation with his Philippine counterpart, Albert del Rosario. The two ministers announced that they are going work more firmly together in the battle against human trafficking. In the news article for the Government of the Netherlands (2015) is stated that Mr. Koender said that “Philippine nationals are regularly lured to richer countries, only to be exploited there as cheap labour,”. And the added: “To combat human trafficking in other parts of the world, close international cooperation is essential.” Both ministers are planning to give extraordinary attention to handle the issue of human trafficking. According to the Dutch minister, the Netherlands and the Philippines have nice beneficial economic relations. The minister stated that around 130 Dutch organizations are settled in the Philippines, which makes the Netherlands one of the top three investors in the Philippine economy (Government of the Netherlands, 2015).

Not only a small country as the Netherlands is worried about the situation in the Philippines, also large international organizations call for the emergency situation in the Philippines with regard to the human trafficking problem. The International Labour Office (ILO) has developed a global project for the promotion of fair recruitment practices globally and across specific migration areas. The project is called the Integrated Programme on Fair Recruitment. The goal of this program is “the reduction in deceptive and coercive practices during the recruitment process and violations of fundamental principles and rights at work, as well as other human and labour rights” (ILO, Integrated Programme on Fair Recruitment). Tunisia, Jordan, Nepal and the Philippines are designated as pilot countries for this project. The pilot runs from 1 August 2015 till 31 July 2018.

In this paper provides an analysis on the Fair Recruitment program. The question ‘How can the Integrated Programme on Fair Recruitment be used to reduce the human trafficking of migrants in Philippines?’ will be investigated. First the international labour standards on migration will be analyzed. Then the influence of these labour standards on the formation of the FAIR program will be explored. Also an overview on the situation in the Philippines will be given on the topic of human trafficking. Lastly the possible influence of FAIR program will be examined and possible future outcomes will be discussed.

International Labour Standards on Labour Migration

ILO Standards

Over the last century many international labour standards with regard to labour and migration have been developed. The ILO constitution from 1919 announces in its preamble the importance of the “protection of the interests of workers when employed in countries other than their own” (ILO Constitution, 1919). From that point onwards, universal labour standards which specifically address the circumstance of migrant workers have been embraced as equally to migrant workers as to other workers by the general body of international labour law. This means that all international labour standards do apply to migrant workers, unless specifically mentioned. The eight fundamental conventions as defined by the ILO 1998 declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, are also applicable to migrant workers. These fundamental rights include the abolition of forced labour, the elimination of child labour, the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining and the protection against discrimination (ILO, International labour standards on labour migration).

The ILO’s involvement with the circumstances of migrant workers was also reflected by its initial two Recommendations, received at the First Session of the International Work Conference in 1919. These recommendations incorporated arrangements concerning migrant workers. Article 2 of the Unemployment Recommendation (no. 1) 1919, prescribed that “the recruiting of bodies of workers in one country with a view to their employment in another country should be permitted only by mutual agreement between the countries concerned and after consultation with employers and workers in each country”. The Reciprocity of Treatment Recommendation (no. 2) 1919, expressed that member States have to guarantee that non-national workers and their families should have the same worker protection legislation. These two instruments mirror a similar ambitions of international collaboration to control migration and the equal treatment of migrant workers. This was the basis that keep on characterizing ILO standard setting for migrant workers.

Later on the ILO created more specific instruments to deal with the topic of a migrant worker. This include Migration for Employment Convention, no. 97 (1949), the Migration for Employment Recommendation, no. 86 (1949), the Migrant workers convention, no. 143 (1975) and the Migrant Workers Recommendation no. 151 (1975). The last mentioned convention (no. 143) can be seen as the updated version of the older convention on migrant workers. Convention no. 143 does mention the emerging problem of trafficking as one of the reasons for the new convention. As the preamble states “Considering that evidence of the existence of illicit and clandestine trafficking in labour calls for further standards specifically aimed at eliminating these abuses”. And also the first enforcing goals is mentioned under article 5 “One of the purposes of the measures taken under Articles 3 and 4 of this Convention shall be that the authors of manpower trafficking can be prosecuted whatever the country from which they exercise their activities.”

By observations and direct requests to the States, the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations examines the applications of conventions 97 and 143 (ILO, International labour standards on labour migration).

UN standards

Next to the ILO standards, other instruments have been developed in order to protect migrant workers. The United Nations (UN) has developed nine core international human rights instruments. These nine instruments are designed to protect all human rights. One of these instruments has specially been made for the protection of workers. This is the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant workers and Members of their Families. This convention which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1990 and entered into force in 2003. The UN convention supplements the for ILO instruments that were mentioned before (ILO, International labour standards on labour migration). The UN document can be seen as a more extensive instrument that goes beyond labour issues. Additionally the UN instrument does create an Committee on Migrant workers which is in charge of observing the application of the convention by the states. The ILO does take part in the gatherings of the committee, to a limited extent.


The definition for the concept migrant worker can also be found in the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant workers and Members of their Families. In article 2, it is stated that “The term ‘migrant worker’ refers to a person who is to be engaged, is engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a State of which he or she is not a national.”.

The definition of human trafficking is laid down in the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). In article 3 paragraph (a) of the protocol 3 distinct elements are brought forward, namely the act, the means and the purpose of the trafficking. The definition for the trafficking of persons defined by the UNODC is as follows: “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation”.

This definition covers at least the all forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour, modern forms of slavery, bondage and the removal of organs. The aim of the UNODC definition is to present an overall and comprehensive tool to guarantee consistency around the world. Moreover this definition is meant as a guidance tool for states, so that states can implement this definition in the domestic legislation (UNOCD, Human Trafficking).

Research from the period 2015 till 2016, shows that the misuse of migrant workers happens during the whole process of labour migration, because most migrant workers do not have proper information about the procedure and their rights available before migration. This leads to the misuse of this workers by more powerful people, agencies and companies (The Global Slavery Index, Philippines).

The Integrated Programme on Fair Recruitment

There have been developed several instruments by the ILO, the UN and other organizations that try to safeguard the rights of migrant workers. Still their some evident gaps between the current international labour instruments, since no single organization does have a comprehensive mandate on issues of international migration (Wickramasekara, 2008). The Integrated Programme on Fair Recruitment (FAIR) tries to overcome these barriers and to provide a full-fledged instrument. The overall aim of the project is to provide an advancement of fair recruitment practices around the globe and across particular migration corridors in North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. The pilots of the project will be held over the period from 1 august 2015 till 21 July 2018 in the countries Tunasia, Jordan, Nepal and the Philippines.

The pilot for the project have been made together by the ILO’s Special Action Programme to Combat Forced Labour and the Labour Migration Branch. The aim of the FAIR project is to reduce the deceptive and coercive practices during the recruitment process and the abuse of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. This should lead to safer migration possibilities, adequate management of public and employment agencies and corrupt actors being held responsible for violations (ILO, Integrated Programme on Fair Recruitment).

The main objectives of the FAIR project are in the brochure (2015) of the ILO described as:

1. Establishing fair recruitment corridors to prevent exploitation of migrant workers
2. Providing migrant workers with access to reliable information and services
3. Disseminate global and national knowledge about recruitment and engagement with the media

To reach these objectives the ILO has developed general principles and operational guidelines for fair recruitment. This document provides a practical objectives, has no enforcement possibilities.

The Philippines

Human trafficking is a serious problem in the Philippines. It is estimated that 10 million Filipin workers migrate to another country for work. Motives to go abroad can often be found in economic areas. The Chairman of the Commission on the Filipinos Overseas, Mr. Ang (2008), states that the Philippines economy is still lagging behind compared to other neighboring countries. There are high rates of persistent unemployment and structural poverty. Moreover there is a high rate of population growth, which creates the situation of high labour supply compared to the unchanged labour demand. This situation makes that there are limited employment opportunities in the country for many Filipinos. On the other hand the higher incomes and benefits are offered abroad. This makes that many Filipinos desperately migrate try work abroad and try to improve their personal situation (The Global Slavery Index, Philippines). It can be said that the Philippines is the ‘supply country’ for migrant workers, since many people leave the country and to a lesser degree the country is a destination for migrant workers. Many of the 10 million Filipin migrated workers are considered to be trapped by human trafficking. During the work abroad many victims of human trafficking encounter physical and sexual exploitation, danger, barbarous living conditions, the default od salary payment, and the occupation of their travel and identity documents (Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, 2015).

The Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (2015) also states that most of the Philippian victims of human trafficking are often subject to sex trafficking and forced labour, which includes debt bondage, throughout different industries, us as the fishing, construction, education, nursing, shipping, and agricultural industries, as well as in domestic work, janitorial service, and other hospitality-related jobs.

The traffickers, who are ordinarily organized with small local networks, take part in recruitment practices that abandon migrant workers in a powerless position against trafficking. For example by charging extraordinary amounts of money and taking in identification documents. Additionally traffickers use email and social media to falsely recruit Filipinos to work abroad. Unlawful recruiters use students, interns and exchange program visas to go around the Philippine government and prevent that they will be traced by the administrative system of the destination country.

The Philippines Government

The Philippines government is aware of the pressing situation and the practices of traffickers. Therefore the government has tried to and is still trying to implement multiple instruments to protect the migrant workers. The Philippines have ratified all eight fundamental ILO conventions and even the technical conventions C097, the Migration of Employment convention, since April 2009 and the C143 Migrant Workers Convention in September 2006 (ILO, Ratifications for Philippines). The UN convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrants and their Families has already been ratified by the Philippines in July 1995 (UN, [status of treaties]).

Next to these ratifications, the Philippines government has taken several initiatives and it aims at being a regional leader in victim support and protection, especially for Filipino workers overseas (The Global Slavery Index, Philippines). One of these initiatives is resulting from the Dutch concerns as mentioned in the introduction. This is partnership between the Philippines and the Netherlands, called the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), is developed in order to fight the human trafficking problem. Other instruments that the Philippines Government has implemented include the creation of Filipino Workers Resource Centers (FWRC), Philippines Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) and pre-departure Orientation Seminar (PDOS). The workers resource centers provide support for migrant workers. At this moment 8 workers’ resource centres across the world have been established to help stressed workers. Workers who work with an employment contract that lasts longer than two years have to register with the Philippines overseas employment agency and they are provided with information before departure by the pre-departure orientation seminars.

FAIR programme in the Philippines

The document that the ILO published in 2016 on the General Principles and Operational Guidelines for fair recruitment provides a framework for the ILO, national lawmakers and the social partners on promoting and safeguarding fair recruitment. The principles are designed to include the recruitment of all types of workers, including migrant workers, regardless of whether directly by employers or by work agencies. Application of these standards and rules at the national level ought to happen after a dialogue between the social partners and the legislature.

There general principles are proposed to situate application at all levels and operational rules are proposed to address obligations of particular actors in the recruitment procedure and incorporate conceivable interventions and strategy instruments (ILO, General principles & operational guidelines for fair recruitment).

The FAIR program has also planned to enroll specific activities in the Philippines in order to deal with the current problem in the country (ILO, Integrated Programme on Fair Recruitment (FAIR) – Philippines). The first activity is to promote the ratification of ILO convention 181. This convention is the Private Employment Agencies convention. By the ratification of this convention the Philippines will have a legal instrument that prohibits private employment agencies in certain case, but more importantly the convention mentions certain binding rules for the practices of private employment agencies. Another planned activity is the promotion of ratification of the Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour convention and adapt the 50 For Freedom Campaign of the ILO, in order to combat forms of modern slavery. The Philippines should also revise the current legal and policy framework on recruitment and its enforcement. By updating the old framework to current standards, the legal enforcement of the new human trafficking practices can be resisted. Next to an update to the legal framework, the government of the Philippines should investigate possibilities to build alternative and fair recruitment models, which are for example without the high fees for migrant workers. Also the information provision and protection of rights of migrant workers should be enhanced. This can be done by collaboration with constituents and by the execution of the Migrant Recruitment Monitor. The last planned activity mentioned by the FAIR program for the Philippines government is the development of strategic partnerships in order to enhance the scope and nature of investigative reporting on the misuse and exploitation in recruitment.


The international labour standards on migration as developed by the ILO and the UN do provide a guidance framework for states on how to deal with migrant workers and human trafficking. In the case of the Philippines there is still a big gap between the international policies and the national practices. Many modern forms of human trafficking which are also called modern slavery or forced labour, are not covered properly by these instruments.

Reference list

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