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Qatar abstains in ILO Protocol to Forced Labour Convention vote; Saudi, Bahrain vote against

Qatar abstains in ILO Protocol to Forced Labour Convention vote; Saudi, Bahrain vote against
Aakash Jayaprakash

JustHere columnist and migrant rights expert Aakash Jayaprakash is at the 103rd International Labour Conference hosted by the International Labour Organization in Geneva. He writes about the landmark forced labour protocol that was passed yesterday.

A total of 437 delegates representing governments, employers and workers passed the Protocol to the Forced labour convention of 1930.

This protocol is a major step forward in as it addresses gaps within the existing international framework to protect workers from forced labour or the commonly used term nowadays, “contemporary forms of slavery”. In particular, the Protocol addresses issues of human trafficking and the ILO in a recent report has determined a total of about 21 million victims across the world, and estimate an amount of 150 billion dollars in illegal profits made off of their labour.

Many of the GCC delegations (government, employer and worker representative) abstained from the vote, with employer delegates from Bahrain and Saudi Arabia voting against the Protocol, while the worker representative from Bahrain voted in favour of the protocol.

Qatar had unanimously abstained from the vote. The Qatari delegation included two government representatives from the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, one employer representative from the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry and one worker representative from Qatar Petroleum. It is important to note that Qatar is a signatory to the Forced Labour Convention of 1930.

Why is this important?

There are currently an estimated 21 million forced labour victims worldwide. A recent ILO report estimates that $150 billion in illegal profits are made in the private economy each year through modern forms of slavery.



This video explains what exactly is forced labour.

Human Rights Council

Parallel to the  International Labour Conference is the 26th Session of the Human Rights Council is also being held, where issues as varied as protection of women, access to health and ethics of business and human rights are being discussed. Despite the negative global press that Qatar seems to be receiving, there’s a fair amount of positive feedback heard about Qatari government in the UN hallways of Geneva. One consistent thing that has been stated is how open the Qatari government has been, along with its willingness to engage with international bodies. Friday (June 13) is a very important day at the session for Qatar as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants will be presenting his (accurate and well-balanced in my opinion) detailed report on the issues faced by migrant workers in Qatar.

The Forced Labour Protocol contains provisions that include protection of victims of forced labour and requiring remedies such as compensation, and sanctioning of perpetrators of forced labour. Article 2 (d) of the Protocol includes specific protection measures for migrant workers during the recruitment and placement stages, and for the duration of their employment. In addition to the Forced labour Protocol, delegates at the ILC conference also passed the Recommendation on Supplementary Measures for the Effective Suppression of Forced labour which include further suggestions to prevent and protect against forced labour which includes collective bargaining, legal assistance, education, skills training programs, and a call in Article 3 (i) to eliminate all recruitment fees from the migration process.

Interestingly, all representatives of the Qatari delegation had unanimously voted in favour of Supplementary Measures (Recommendations to the Forced labour Protocol). Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman had also unanimously voted in favour. Also interesting was that the UAE’s government and employer representatives had voted in favour, while the Worker Representative abstained from the vote. Kuwait’s sole government representative also abstained from the vote. While the Protocol itself is quite a strong document, the fact is that the supplementary measures only have a “Recommendation” status.

To better comprehend how delegates at the ILC voted, we need to understand that the ILO is the only tripartite body within the United Nations that includes representation from workers, employers and governments. As described on its website:

“The International Labour Organization (ILO) is the only tripartite U.N. agency with government, employer, and worker representatives. This tripartite structure makes the ILO a unique forum in which the governments and the social partners of the economy of its Member States can freely and openly debate and elabourate labour standards and policies.”

International conventions and treaties are usually only binding upon the ratification of these treaties, wherein governments pass national laws of the same. Without ratification, governments may support or vote in favour of international conventions but in reality is meaningless. While the ILO can pass international conventions and protocols, the enforcement ability of the organisation is quite limited and contingent on national and sovereign implementation. The pathways for taking these issues more seriously have been created yesterday at the United Nations in Geneva. Forced labour is unfortunately a reality that exists across the world, where few individuals are able to make large profits from the work of many.  I am quite hopeful that we as a society whether in Qatar, India, Mexico or Italy have the courage to make difficult decisions to protect people better.

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