Migrant Labor Rights

April 11, 2017





March 2015

The NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights is undertaking a program of academic research and practical advocacy aimed at improving respect for labor rights in the recruitment of migrant workers in the construction industry. The project will focus on recruitment efforts in South Asia for construction projects in the Arabian Gulf region. According to some estimates, there are more than one million construction workers from South Asia working in the Gulf.

The objective of this work will be to improve business practices in the recruitment process and to address the negative effects on workers’ rights. The project will complement and strengthen other academic and advocacy efforts that largely focus on working conditions in receiving countries and the situation of returned migrants.

The project will proceed on three tracks: 1) original research on the nature of the recruiting business, 2) identifying options for action with key stakeholders to enhance respect for migrant workers’ rights in the recruiting process, and 3) advancing standards for ethical recruiting business models in the construction industry.

Track One: Research on the recruitment business in South Asia

The Center’s initial research will focus on business practices of commercial recruiting firms in South Asia, aimed at understanding the business models for recruiting migrant construction workers for projects in the Gulf region. This research will examine systemic problems in recruitment practices, such as the imposition of onerous recruitment fees and the business models that encourage these practices.

The report, to be published in 2016, will be based in part on interviews with recruiters, workers, business people, and other experts, with additional analysis, documentation, and reporting.

Track Two: Developing reform options

In the second phase of the project, The Center will develop a range of potential options for business and policy reforms aimed at strengthening respect for workers’ rights in the recruitment process. To help inform these options, the Center will convene key stakeholders, including recruiting and construction firms, governments and NGOs in closed-door meetings. These meetings will focus on identifying practical, business-oriented solutions that enhance respect for the rights of migrant workers.

Track Three: Promoting recommendations for ethical recruiting practices

The third phase of the project will focus on encouraging reforms in the recruitment process. For these reforms to be implemented successfully, construction companies, cultural and academic institutions, recruiting firms, governments, international organizations, and civil society groups will need to work together to develop and embrace and implement industry wide business standards aimed at ensuring greater protections of migrant workers’ rights in recruitment.

A number of recruitment standards are emerging. The Center’s goal is not to initiate new standards, but to encourage the principle stakeholders to rally around standards that are already on the table, and to identify effective approaches for implementing such standards at different levels of the supply chain.

The Center starts from the premise that standards-based approaches that apply across groups of companies are the best way to address human rights challenges while leveling the playing field for businesses so that each company remains competitive.

About the Center for Business and Human Rights

The NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights is located at the Leonard N. Stern School of Business at New York University. Michael Posner and Sarah Labowitz co-founded the Center in 2013 and serve as co-directors. The Center offers classes, conducts research, and carries out projects on current business and human rights challenges. For more information about the Center, visit http://bhr.stern.nyu.edu