Human Trafficking in Japan
The U.S. Congress released a Trafficking In Persons Report (2020) concluding Japan’s federal response to human trafficking as insufficient. Though the report recognizes Japan’s reformed policies, tightened visa checks and installation of victim shelters, its government has a history of not taking measures to fully criminalize and eradicate human trafficking in Japan.

History of Human Trafficking in Japan

In the early 1980s, human trafficking in Japan was common. Without Japan’s government regulation or extensive protocol, traffickers targeted many social groups including women, international students, foreign laborers and entertainers.

The majority of human trafficking came from the entertainment industry, due to Japan’s lenient authorization of all foreigners applying for the “Entertainer” visa. Women from Thailand and the Philippines migrated to Japan in the 1990s through this specific label, though only 20% were actual singers and dancers.

With a large demand for sexual services, targeted women in the entertainment industry were mostly from red-light districts. Though these cases for human trafficking were prominent, Japan did not take federal action and instead, dismissed them as “foreign cases.”

In other cases, external human trafficking groups traded women into Japan from foreign countries. Given fraudulent passports and tied to the organizations by debt bondage, victims paid off their contracts through sexual labor in Japan.

Activism to Reduce Human Trafficking in Japan

Despite the ongoing rise of human trafficking in Japan, many Japanese activist groups began to form and take action, specifically large organizations such as the Japanese Network Against Trafficking in Persons (JNATIP), established in 2003, or Kyofukai, the Japan Christian Women’s Organization, established in 1886. These advocacy groups provided victims shelter and protection, responding and reacting to women and children who were victims of human trafficking. As non-government organizations took on what the state neglected, tension began to spread throughout the state and human trafficking in Japan began to catch national attention.

The Japanese government’s lack of regulation and foreigner neglect continued these trends from the 1980s to 2000s. In contrast to Japan’s circumstances, other countries began to adopt the UN’s Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) in response to the globally rising cases. Starting in 2000, the U.S. Congress strongly encouraged and monitored this collective stance, releasing annual reports on the results and efficiency of anti-trafficking measures in each country.

In 2002, Japan agreed to implement the Protocol Against Human Trafficking, which revised immigration protocols and adopted measures to combat human trafficking in Japan. It also signed the Action Plan in 2004, which strengthened immigration processing, provided victims government protection and declared trafficking a federal crime against human rights. Despite its efforts, the U.S. marked Japan as Tier 2, a subcategory that states this country does not fully adhere to the TVPA’s standards.

A Setback in Reducing Human Trafficking

Today, Japan still remains at Tier 2 in 2020, though the U.S. briefly advanced Japan to Tier 1 in 2018-19. Although human trafficking measures and policies are still in place, several factors contribute to Japan’s setback.

For starters, Japan has introduced a steady flow of migrant workers that have led to labor exploitation and debt bondage. The country has steadily dismissed these as “foreign cases,” coincidentally turning to direct its human trafficking policies on domestic cases. This shift in the government’s focus has allowed the state to avert attention from the exploitation of foreign labor.

Japan has also allowed an alarming amount of international students through foreign study-abroad agencies under the “Kaigo” visa. Students under contract are able to work off tuition through legal work, though in some cases, must work against their will. The 2020 Trafficking Report that the U.S. released states that Japan’s foreign student population is more and more at risk for human trafficking due to dishonest work-study contracts in unskilled unmonitored labor sections. The cases of both international students and migrant workers have steadily increased, especially with Japan’s lenient immigration policy change in 2018.

Moving Forward

All things considered, Japan has disregarded the global effort to eradicate human trafficking cases. Despite the state’s continued indifference, non-governmental organizations continue to respond to victims, advocate for further policy changes and attempt to discontinue trends of exploitation in Japan. Though the cases of trafficking have gone down over the last two decades, the insufficient federal response to human trafficking still affects many social groups.

Today, non-governmental organizations continue to protect victims and advocate for better policies to combat human trafficking in Japan. The U.S. 2020 Trafficking In Persons report and labor exploitation stigma have uncovered Japan’s underwhelming policies and scrutinized the country for its lack of completion and insufficient response. The JNATIP remains a major resource group for human trafficking victims, promoting the enactment of laws for trafficking victims. The political fight against human trafficking in Japan continues.

– Linda Chong
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Thailand
In Thailand, about 610,000 people are victims of modern-day slavery. According to the Global Slavery Index, about one in 113 among its 69 million population was prey to human trafficking as of 2018. There are steps the Government of Thailand can take to end human trafficking in Thailand. While some have made progress in reducing the human trafficking trade, urgent government action is necessary to impact Thai citizens and migrant workers widely.

Challenges Eliminating Human Trafficking in Thailand

A big part of the country’s prevention efforts must involve the protection of migrants. Thailand’s population has about 4.9 million migrants – making up 10% of its workforce – according to the United Nations. Most individuals migrating to Thailand are from poorer neighboring countries such as Myanmar and Cambodia, and are, therefore, more vulnerable to trafficking.

The country passed The Royal Ordinance on Management of Migrant Workers in March 2018, which requires employers to cover recruitment fees and transportation costs for migrant workers in Thailand. These transportation finances include the arrival and return home of employed migrant workers.

However, the country has not defined or enforced the regulations on these fees well. According to 2019’s annual Trafficking in Person’s Report from the U.S. Department of State, several recruitment agencies and brokers still required workers to pay for their recruitment fees and transportation costs. Four of the “67 migrant worker recruitment agencies” that the government reviewed were still violating the law in 2018.

The Government of Thailand’s Efforts

Due to the rise in human trafficking in Thailand in recent years, the Government of Thailand is making significant efforts to meet the standards for eliminating human trafficking. Key strategies include more victim identification, as well as normalizing more anti-trafficking policies. Other important factors involve training officials in victim identification and using interview techniques that allow victims to have a safer environment to report to. The government also increased efforts to raise awareness of the issue, organizing campaigns through all forms of media – newspapers, television, radio, social media, billboards and handouts – to alert the public about the seriousness of the issue.

The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security (MSDHS) created hotlines for citizens to report human trafficking in Thailand anonymously where operators spoke 12 different languages. In 2018, the MSDHS prosecuted 63 cases from the 161 calls related to possible trafficking crimes.

The Government of Thailand has policies in place to protect victims of human trafficking. People identified as trafficking victims are viable to receive help from the Thailand government, which includes staying at a shelter and receiving compensation through a state fund. Victims also qualify for legal aid while awaiting trial to give evidence or returning home. In 2019, The Government of Thailand provided legal and social services to 12,857 migrant workers who were vulnerable or otherwise affected by human trafficking in Thailand.

The USAID Thailand Counter Trafficking in Persons Project

Other programs work with the Government of Thailand to reduce human trafficking in Thailand. The USAID Thailand Counter Trafficking in Persons Project “works to decrease trafficking and better protect the rights of trafficked persons in Thailand by reducing demand for using trafficked labor and strengthening protection systems for survivors.” One of the key goals of the organization is finding and removing barriers in identifying victims of human trafficking, which it partners with the Government of Thailand to accomplish.

The International Labor Organization (ILO)

The International Labor Organization (ILO) is an NGO that works with countries on several workplace-related issues, including human trafficking in Thailand. Since its creation in 1919 at the Treaty of Versailles, the organization has set out to set labor standards and create programs for all.

Over the past years, the ILO has joined forces with the European Union and the Government of Thailand through the Ship to Shore Rights Project to support the Thai seafood and fishing industries in complying with international labor standards, offering protection from illegal labor. According to its 2020 report, it has stepped up its work with the Project and has implemented an approach to address major gaps, including the improvement of representation for Thai workers.

In January 2019, the Royal Thai Government ratified the ILO Convention on Work in Fishing, which provides standards for recruitment and placement to work onboard a fishing vessel, as many people in Thailand undergo trafficking for the seafood industry.

Thailand became the first country in Asia to ratify the law, reflecting the organization’s belief that people can accomplish universal and lasting peace only if it is based on social justice. Though it may be easy to focus on the negative, it is important to note that steps are emerging to reduce human trafficking in Thailand. Thailand still requires improvements, but one should not ignore its efforts.

– Celia Brocker
Photo: Flickr

Indian Migrant Workers
As COVID-19 spreads throughout India, it is revealing the country’s systematic inequalities as Indian migrant workers bear the brunt of the pandemic.

The Lockdown

India’s national lockdown began on March 25, 2020. It went into effect a mere four hours after the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, made the announcement. However, Modi’s order did not consider the impact it would have on migrant workers. As a result, millions of migrant workers were jobless and stranded in cities all across the country. Shareen Joshi, a professor at Georgetown University, spoke to The Borgen Project. Joshi described how the lockdown “appears to have been imposed to benefit India’s middle and upper classes in urban areas. It literally ‘forgot’ about 350 million migrant workers.”

Consequently, thousands of migrants had to make the dangerous journey home. With public transportation shut down, some walked hundreds of miles, often without proper protective gear or the ability to practice social distancing.

“The virus is basically systematically exposing inequalities and fault-lines in every country it seems to enter,” Joshi said.

The Pandemic Highlights Underlying Inequalities

Indian migrant workers are already a vulnerable population. They rarely belong to trade unions or work under contracts. Additionally, many migrants lack the bank accounts necessary to secure government benefits. Although the Indian government offers welfare for those below the poverty line, migrant workers often do not know how to access this relief.

Indian migrant workers were among the first to feel the economic consequences of the virus. An April 2020 report by the nonprofit organization Jan Sahas, titled Voices of the Invisible Citizens, stated that “90% laborers (approx.) have already lost their source of income” within just three weeks. This complete financial depletion left, “42% of labourers” with “no ration left even for the day, let alone for the duration of the lockdown.”

The virus has also aggravated discrimination against Indian migrant workers. Joshi stated that migrant workers represent their own “scheduled castes” within India’s caste system. Many consider migrant workers as possible carriers of the virus. Fearing infection, their communities shun them upon their return home.

Rebuilding the Economy and Addressing Inequities

As India begins to rebuild its economy, Joshi recommends “a bottom-up strategy, people-centric rather than money-centric.” This strategy would have the government invest in individual villages to create a trickle-up effect.

Moreover, this strategy would aid the Indian migrant workers. In March 2020, the president of the Indian National Congress, Sonia Gandhi, proposed that district collectors help migrants who cannot afford shelter and that the government provide transportation for migrants to get home. Joshi described a proposal to make ration cards portable. This would allow migrants to “access food in both the location they are registered and the area where they work.”

While this pandemic has brought unthinkable suffering to Indian migrant workers, it may also inspire a new fight for equality. Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director of the Human Rights Watch, believes the pandemic might provide “an opportunity to end communal bias and­­­ other discrimination in governance and restore the impartiality of state institutions.” This pandemic has shown, if nothing else, the need to address the inequalities that have plagued India.

Jessica Blatt
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Qatar
Ever since the International Federation of Association Football’s (FIFA) announcement that Qatar would host the 2022 World Cup, migrant flows to the country have exploded. Since 2010, Qatar has sought to bring thousands of workers to its shores in order to assist in the construction of stadiums, hotels and other infrastructure necessary to facilitate the tournament. To meet this demand, migrants from all over the Persian Gulf region, we well as South Asia, have flooded into the country. Migrants hoped to escape dire straits in order to find a stable job and a stable income. In fact, 700,000 workers came from India alone. However, migrant poverty in Qatar has become a significant issue.

Migrants in Qatar

According to Human Rights Watch, the migrant labor force has reached over 2 million, making up approximately 95% of the labor force. However, despite being the second richest country in the world with a GDP per capita of $124,500 in 2017, a lack of labor rights has created widespread poverty in Qatar, especially among migrants.

The reason poverty persists among workers is the kafala sponsorship system. Migrants have to apply for visas from employers, often incurring costs through recruiters to do so. Even if workers do manage to pay enough to get access to a job, employers have broad controls over what workers can do. Employers often take passports from workers, preventing them from escaping brutal conditions. Additionally, some workers have gone with little to no pay. This has led to hundreds of thousands of people living in labor camps, where disease and poverty are rampant.

Solutions

In 2017 and 2018, Qatar’s government passed policies intended to reduce migrant poverty in Qatar. In October 2017, the government established a temporary minimum wage for migrant workers in the hopes of improving the conditions of laborers. One year later, in October 2018, Amnesty International reported that Qatar implemented a support and insurance fund in order to protect workers from lost wages.

However, Human Rights Watch reports that both of these reforms were implemented unevenly, and thus have not had much of an effect. Employers still have a lot of control over workers, and poor enforcement has meant that the kafala structure is still in place.

On August 30, 2020, Qatar announced two new reforms in order to rectify this issue. The first was an increase in the existing minimum wage. The law will take effect in January 2021, and also requires employers to pay workers a stipend for food and housing. The second was a law to allow workers to leave their jobs without having express permission from their employers. This mobility could allow workers to escape dangerous conditions and find better work.

Such reforms could even save lives, as even the lowest estimates indicate that at least 1,200 people have died working on World Cup stadiums due to harsh conditions. International watchdogs have applauded these reforms. Amnesty International argues that these small steps provide some hope that migrant poverty in Qatar, as well as worker exploitation, will soon be on the decline.

– Thomas Gill
Photo: Flickr

Health and Human Rights of RefugeesOne of the most important factors in beating the coronavirus is ensuring that everybody has access to public health. According to The New Humanitarian, this has pushed numerous governments to double down on their efforts to protect the health and human rights of refugees, migrant workers and asylum seekers who may have not been able to afford access to these services pre-COVID.

In March as the worldwide outbreaks quadrupled and human rights organizations around the world urged governments the dangers the coronavirus would impose on refugees and asylum seekers. The World Health Organization, the UNHCR and several other organizations put out a joint press release that pressured governments to release migrants and undocumented individuals from immigration detention centers as well as include them in public health relief efforts. Here are three countries that have prioritized protecting the health and human rights of refugees during COVID-19. They show that these policies could be sustained even beyond the crisis.

Countries Protecting the Health and Human Rights of Refugees During COVID-19

  1. Italy: Italy has one of the highest infection rates with 238,159 confirmed cases and 34,514 deaths. Italy’s fields have also attracted migrant workers from Eastern Europe. On May 13, the Italian government passed an amnesty law allowing around 200,000 migrant workers and undocumented refugees to apply for healthcare and 6-month legal residency permits. The downside of this new step is that the bill only applies to agricultural workers, leaving out many of the workers in the informal sector who perform labor in construction or food services.
  2. Portugal: Migrants and asylum seekers in Portugal with applications that are still in process are now being granted early access to public services that include welfare, rental contracts, bank accounts and national health service. Claudia Veloso, the spokesperson for Portugal’s chapter of the Ministry of International Affairs, told Reuters that “people should not be deprived of their rights to health and public service just because their application has not been processed yet.”
  3. Brazil: Brazil has the highest rate of outbreaks second to the United States, and President Jair Bolsonaro has continuously dismissed the severity of the virus and failed to respond effectively to outbreaks. So, it has fallen to local community organizations, donors and local authorities to enforce these regulations and double down on the effort to get everybody treated. The Paraisópolis community group started running a quarantine center in partnership with health workers, NGOs and medical centers. The center has around 240 volunteers monitoring the health of at least 50 families at a time. It acquired sanitation supplies and personal protection equipment through crowdfunding. The group is providing food and medical aid to undocumented migrants.

Amnesty International stated that in order to fix the refugee crisis “the world urgently needs a new, global plan based on genuine international cooperation and a meaningful and fair sharing of responsibilities.” Policy experts are hopeful that these new policies will help governments to consider new possibilities for a more humane approach to helping displaced migrants and asylum seekers in the future. The health and human rights of refugees need to be protected.

Isabel Corp
Photo: Flickr

India's WorkforceOn March 24, 2020, India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, announced a nationwide lockdown — giving India’s workforce of 1.3 billion people just four hours to prepare. The goal of this lockdown was to minimize the spread of COVID-19. However, there have been three major problems with this lockdown:

  1. Migrant workers returning home
  2. Equal access to resources
  3. Coordination

Migrant Workers

During the lockdown, all stores, factories and businesses shut down. For many migrant workers, this was problematic since it is their employers who provide them with food and shelter. To get home, many of these people used public transportation every week — which was also shut down. Under these circumstances, tens of thousands of migrant workers became stranded with no means of transportation to return home — except on foot. Consequently, workers and families walk hundreds of kilometers in the streets, close to one another, to arrive home. Moreover, these workers have limited access to health products and resources. Many of these people live on daily income and without these funds, they must rely on the government for financial support.

Access to Resources

This sheds light on the second problem, the distribution of resources. Due to the lockdown, India’s economy could drop by nearly 8%. This has prompted the government to invest in a $23 billion relief package to help sustain India’s poor and stimulate the economy.

But does this provide people with enough? Does this provide for everyone? Dr. Sanjay Kumar, an activist, professor and leader in the field of urban development, describes the situation as “very related with social security systems.” He describes a lack of equal connection between people and resources, explaining that “public distribution is not connected.” This is about the lack of equal distribution of goods, not the lack of goods in the first place. Since more than 80% of India’s workforce works within the informal sector and all inessential jobs have been shut down, these people are left jobless. They need resources but find them difficult to obtain because they can no longer access them through their jobs.

Coordination

Thirdly, there has been a lack of coordination by the government while implementing this lockdown. There was much confusion among policemen during the lockdown. This resulted in multiple cases of police brutality against those in India’s workforce simply trying to return home. Additionally, there is much confusion and a lack of education regarding the virus. India’s workforce is not adequately educated on social distancing — a practice that is very important for the containment of the virus. “There is a gap between planning, announcement and implementation… due to this gap, people are suffering,” Dr. Kumar said. Due to this disorganization, Prime Minister Modi has publicly apologized for the poor execution of this lockdown.

Two further important issues remain. That of healthcare funding, which is very low and the high amount of immunocompromised citizens with respiratory diseases. India currently has 2.09 million people confirmed to have the new coronavirus. Bearing in mind the limited ability to test because of poor healthcare funding, this is a great concern. The rise in cases has shown to be fairly rapid. Concerned, global citizens can assist India and its informal workforce through advocation. E.g., advocating for the creation of a social security net, donating to hospitals, donating to families and advocating for the government to invest in India’s healthcare system. Through this type of action, India’s workforce may see a much needed, positive turn around.

Hope Arpa Chow
Photo: Google Images

Homelessness in QatarThough Qatar may be known for its gleaming skyline and booming business hub, there is notable income inequality that leads to downstream consequences, such as an explosion of homelessness within the nation. While perhaps the country evokes images of riches and wealth, the reality is not so for all those living and working within the country. Here are six facts about homelessness in Qatar that warrant everyone’s attention.

6 Facts About Homelessness in Qatar

  1. As a result of the economic boom during the last 40 years in this small nation in the Middle East, Qatar has gone on a massive building spree. To maintain this rapid pace of building, the country has relied primarily on migrant immigrants to help construct the city. These migrant workers have been subjected to repulsive conditions. Worse yet, the Qatari government could historically do more when it comes to basic human needs for these vulnerable, migrant workers.
  2. Many migrant workers, unable to afford accommodation, sleep at the construction sites in which they work. The companies that sponsor these migrant workers for construction projects in the city do not provide sufficient wages. Furthermore, these same employers do not provide any type of housing to support thousands of workers. Therefore, many migrant workers end up sleeping outside.
  3. An Amnesty International report on the construction of the future FIFA World Cup site in Qatar looked into the mistreatment of these migrant workers. Most notably, the report focused on migrant workers’ unfair treatment concerning housing securement. The report identified multiple individuals who were priced out of their affordable rental housing, due to their company delaying salary payments.
  4. Those who are homeless in Qatar face consequences from all angles of society. The government often views these workers as expendable — thrown into subjugated parts of society and subject to threats from criminals and police alike. These actors take advantage of the migrant workers already poor situation. Without proper living conditions, living on the streets can be quite difficult, especially if one lacks the required documentation and visas.
  5. The government of Qatar has been investing in improving labor conditions for workers. In addition, the government is addressing homelessness in Qatar, more broadly. Encampments like “Labour City,” funded by the State of Qatar’s private engineering office, is an area designed to house over 100,000 migrant workers. The new residences are significant improvements from previous accommodations. Some features of these new residences including access to the internet, green spaces and larger living areas — a far cry from a life on the streets.
  6. Private firms have also been investing in migrant laborers’ living conditions. Barwa Al Baraha, a subsidiary of a private property management business in Qatar, has built residences that can house up to 53,000 people in significantly improved living conditions.

Protecting Vulnerable Populations

While the nation of Qatar has experienced economic success in recent decades, there is no guarantee that the fruits of this success will be distributed equitably. In contrast, some marginalized and vulnerable populations (e.g., migrant workers) within Qatari society are at a higher risk of exploitation, simply due to their life circumstances. Through a concerted effort from both public and private initiatives, labor and living conditions for migrant workers are improving in Qatar and these efforts must continue.

Zak Schneider
Photo: Wikimedia

How Migrant Workers Have Been Impacted By COVID-19Over the past several months, there have been many media stories about how the ongoing pandemic has impacted the American economy, as well as many others around the world. Any reader is likely aware of how harmful the crisis has been to many working- and middle-class people in America. One group that has not received as much attention, however, are migrant workers. Not only have migrant workers been made more vulnerable than usual in the current climate, but their struggles have also intersected with poverty on a global scale.

Migrant Workers During COVID-19

What makes this situation an international crisis rather than a solely American one is remittances. Many migrant workers travel from developing nations to more wealthy ones, where they can earn more money or simply find jobs in order to support their families. These workers send part of their paycheck back home to their loved ones, many of whom live in extreme poverty. Last year alone, migrant workers across the planet sent home $554 billion. This is over three times the amount of international development aid given by wealthy nations. Importantly, remittances frequently go toward crucial essentials, like food, education and medicine.

Experts predict that COVID-19 will be one of the factors that lead to the first global increase in poverty in over 20 years. Migrant workers were already living in difficult conditions prior to the outbreak, and recent events have worsened their circumstances. Many put themselves in danger in order to travel abroad to provide for their families. Furthermore, all of the migrants in the U.S. without Social Security Numbers were ineligible for the stimulus checks sent out in early 2020. When migrant workers are unable to support their relatives back home, their families — who in many cases had to pool resources to “invest” in a family member traveling abroad — are plunged even further into poverty.

A Potential Solution

However, state legislators have the opportunity to provide leadership on how to properly support migrant workers in the U.S. during this time. In April, Massachusetts Democrats put forward Bill H.4726, or “An Act To Provide Equal Stimulus Checks to Immigrant Taxpayers” in the Massachusetts state legislature. The bill would provide financial stimulus support to undocumented taxpaying Americans. Though not all migrant workers are undocumented, this bill would serve as a policy response to the crisis that includes undocumented workers who pay taxes. 

Legislation like this, paired with an extended and expanded financial stimulus plan, would help to combat poverty at home and around the globe. No matter what someone’s immigration status is, they should be able to rest knowing that they and their families, wherever they may be, will not get sick or go hungry. Massachusetts still needs to vote on this bill, but its very existence shows that the United States is not powerless in this situation.

The Role of the US

The United States has the ability to help impoverished people in developing nations, who are suffering in numerous ways from the COVID-19 crisis. U.S. support does not just have to come in the form of international aid, as our domestic affairs impact the rest of the world. By making sure that migrant workers are included in coronavirus relief efforts, the U.S. would help reduce poverty among migrant workers and their families.

– Brendan O’Halloran
Photo: Flickr

Migrant Domestic Workers
In high-income countries, many households rely on dual-income earnings, creating a market hungry for domestic labor to help with childcare and housekeeping. To fill these roles affordably, families rely on the low wage labor of women from developing countries. Many of these domestic workers come from the Philippines and emigrate to wealthier countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan. A significant portion finds work in the United States as well, making up 15% of American domestic workers. This labor export has become extremely vital to the Philippine economy, accounting for about 9% of the country’s total GNP. Although this model has remedied economic hardships for many Filipino families, the human sacrifices of this work are undeniable. Many of the Philippines’ migrant domestic workers must part with their children, endure grueling professional demands and become vulnerable to exploitation in their host countries.

Demand for Migrant Labor

While Filipino men tend to migrate for jobs in construction and transportation, women often work as caretakers and domestics. On average, the remittances of male migrants are double those of female migrants, who frequently fill lower-paying positions. However, working abroad is an opportunity accessible mostly to Filipinos with some preexisting class privilege. Some of the Philippines’ migrant domestic workers leave behind high-level jobs in their native country, their skills and education making them more attractive to foreign employers. Even so, the wages at more menial jobs abroad dwarf the women’s earning potential at home.

Benefits to the Philippines

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration reports that 1.2 million migrants work abroad each year and sent home $27 billion in remittances in 2014. This inflow of remittances is the third highest in the world, only ranking below India and China. When the capital from these remittances enters the national economy, families often invest in natural disaster relief, education and real estate. Exporting labor has also helped narrow the wealth gap, growing a more prosperous middle class. Nationalist rhetoric celebrates foreign labor and individuals who work abroad are praised as “new heroes.” The Philippine government even presents awards like the Model OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) Family of the Year Award to honor the sacrifices of specially dedicated migrant workers.

Personal Sacrifices and Children Left Behind

Despite the earning potential and social honor of working abroad, there is often a heavy emotional cost. Ironically, many Filipino women who leave home to provide childcare in the developed world must leave their own children behind. In the words of Manuela Peña, chief of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, “It is quite easy to become a successful overseas Filipino worker in terms of economic achievement, but we found out it is difficult to maintain family relations and turn (the life of a migrant worker) into success.”

Migrants frequently leave children with family members and childcare workers who do not have the means to work abroad. For workers who are undocumented in their host countries, shuffling back to the Philippines for regular visits is impossible and family separation can last for years. After returning for retirement, many workers spend their retirement caring for children of relatives who work abroad, so that the next generation of mothers and fathers might provide for their families through remittances.

Exploitation and Fair Treatment

Many of the Philippines’ migrant domestic workers are vulnerable to scams and exploitation. Recruiters can charge exorbitant fees, employers can provide poor working conditions and workers can receive unfair payment. The Philippine government has made some infrastructural and policy changes to grapple with these issues. Protections require that employers use standardized employment contracts, cap recruitment fees at reasonable rates and ban deployment to countries with records of poor migrant treatment. In 2012, the Philippines negotiated a groundbreaking $400 monthly minimum wage for Filipino domestic workers in Saudi Arabia.

NGOs like Unlad Kabayan Migrant Services Foundation, Inc. help migrants maximize their savings through entrepreneurship, providing microloans and financial literacy education. This model of social entrepreneurship stimulates local economies, promotes community development and provides a lucrative alternative to migration.

The loans that the Unlad Kabayan Migrant Services Foundation distributes range from ₱3000 to ₱1 million. Borrowers have used the loans to expand their small businesses by employing additional staff, investing in newer machinery and buying vehicles. As of the 2017 annual report, the organization held multiple training events in Davao City and Butuan City, educating participants on family rights, entrepreneurship and business management.

In Conclusion

The Philippines’ labor export model has done much to lift families to comfortable middle-class lives. Many Filipinos now have greater access to capital and education because of the remittances that family members send. However, sacrifice and family separation remain as harsh byproducts. Fortunately, the government has put regulations in place to improve fairness and quality of life for the Philippines’ migrant domestic workers.

– Stefanie Grodman
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in the United Arab Emirates
When Americans think of the United Arab Emirates, they may often think of cities like Dubai consisting of staggering skyscrapers, extravagant lifestyles and unimaginable wealth. Americans may not always see the underlying struggles that many Emirates deal with on a day-to-day basis. Aspects of poverty include a dominating wealth gap, which exists at the expense of migrant workers, water insecurity and issues regarding food supply. This article will address each of these facets of poverty in the United Arab Emirates while also discussing the efforts to help people suffering today.

Wealth Inequality and Migrant Workers

According to the World Inequality Database, the top 1% of Emiratis constitute about 22.8% of total income in the UAE, while the bottom 50% of Emiratis make up only 5.8%. As for wealth, the top 1% of individuals in the UAE hold over 50% of the entire country’s wealth.

The UAE is indeed a rich nation, yet few understand the makeup of this wealth. The upper echelons of Emirati society hold the majority of this wealth and income, which leaves far more individuals struggling for what is left. Foreign nationals make up as much as 88% of the population in the UAE, and migrant workers often receive low pay and work in forced labor.

The country has made some progress in the arena of workers’ rights. For example, an unprecedented bill passed in 2017, guaranteeing certain labor rights. However, the visa sponsorship program in the UAE still ties migrant workers to their employers with strict punishments for those who leave. Systemic financial inequality and lax workers’ rights policies force migrant workers to bear the brunt of poverty in the United Arab Emirates.

Water Insecurity

The U.N. defines “water-scarce” as having less than 1,000 cubic meters of water per capita, per year. The UAE has less than half of that figure. Lacking renewable freshwater, the country relies on desalination, which provides 98% of the water supply for the 2 million people in Dubai. The Water Resources Institute ranked the country 10th out of 164 countries with the most extreme water supply issues.

While desalination plants have picked up some slack, water insecurity is a looming threat in the region. The issue will likely affect members of the lowest classes of Emirati society first. Luckily, organizations like the nonprofit UAE Water Aid Foundation, or SUQIA, are working to provide accessible, potable water throughout the world. Since 2015, SUQIA has helped by improving water purification practices, building wells, installing water coolers and improving water distribution networks and sanitation facilities. This aid organization has expanded its efforts outside the UAE, helping over 13 million individuals suffering from water insecurity in 36 countries. Improving water access and sustainability has a direct impact on millions suffering from predatory labor norms and poverty in the United Arab Emirates.

Food Supply

The lack of a sustainable source of freshwater means the UAE cannot grow enough food to support its population. As such, the UAE relies on imports for 90% of its food supply. This causes the nation to be extremely vulnerable to global shortages and price changes. While the UAE is able to provide food to most of its citizens, projections determine that its population could grow by over 2 million people in the next five years, which could increase pressure on the fragile food supply. Consumption is similarly growing by 12% each year. Migrant workers and other less-wealthy individuals could suffer first because of this growth.

Less than 5% of the land in the UAE is arable farmland, yet over 80% of the water in the country goes to this tiny agriculture sector. As a result, entrepreneurs like those at Madar Farms are working to increase productivity. The company, led by Abdulaziz Al Mulla, purchased old storage containers and repurposed them into indoor farms, growing vegetables under LED lights. These efforts have also translated to the Persian Gulf, where the Ministry of Climate Change and the Environment has built artificial caves and established coral gardens to improve the sustainability of fish farming. Doing so enhances the sustainable food supply, which will largely help those suffering from poverty in the United Arab Emirates. National programs like this reduce the risk of a hunger crisis should global supply plummet.

Poverty in the United Arab Emirates

While few associate poverty with the UAE, the reality is that millions struggle to provide for themselves and their families. Restrictive labor policies in the country provide little help to people in lower socioeconomic classes. Water insecurity is a relatively well-known issue in the UAE, but few recognize hunger as a common problem.

In truth, the UAE has been able to provide for most of its people, but it is easy to overlook everyday threats. Water insecurity and food supply will harm impoverished Emiratis far before they reach the wealthy classes associated with the country. Luckily, organizations like SUQIA and Madar farms are at the forefront of building workable solutions. These efforts provide hope for the UAE, a country that would suffer if left to rely solely on global markets.

Connor Bradbury
Photo: Flickr