30.05.2012 - Social and Human Sciences Sector

What place for human rights in global labour migration?

© Flickr / Attila

The Institute for Research on Migration, Ethnicity and Society (REMESO) at Linköping University, in cooperation with the International Network for Migration and Development (INMD), is organizing a UNESCO-MOST Conference on “Labour Rights as Human Rights? Migration, Labour Market Restructuring, and the Role of Civil Society in Global Governance” in Norrköping (Sweden), from 30 May to 1 June 2012.

The conference will reflect on knowledge and promote social dialogue on the role of labour unions and other organizations of civil society in the global governance of migration. These issues will be discussed against the background of labour market restructuring and emerging international norms pertaining to labour rights as human rights.

Accordingly, the conference is organized to promote exchange of perspectives between leading scholars and representatives of international organizations, labour unions and activists in other civil society organizations on questions of migration, 'decent work' and global governance. Conference participants will investigate and elaborate on policy alternatives for promoting migrants', citizens', and labour rights, as well as conditions for equitable international coordination and a more inclusive role for civil society.

Recent decades have seen new transnational migration systems across the globe. Inter- and intra-regional migrations have been propelled by huge political and economic changes in Eastern Europe, the massive growth of industrial and service economies such as in China and India, and increasing conflict- and climate driven refugee movements. These new migration systems are accompanied by an unprecedented mobility of capital, restructuring of national and regional economies, and an increased flexibility of labour markets. It was estimated that, in 2010, there were 214 million migrants worldwide. Out of this total, up to 105 million were economically active as workers. While the economic and financial crisis has severely affected migrants, it has not substantially reduced the need for migrant labour, which is now a structural feature of many economies. Rather, the crisis has affected and worsened the living and working conditions of many migrants, and of many members of their families.  

The other side of flexibility and a globalized 'network economy' is informalisation and precarisation of work through offshoring, outsourcing, sub-contracting, and renewed sweatshop production. Labour market flexibilisation is re-enforced and perpetuates ethnic, racial and gender segmentations. While workers everywhere are caught up in these changes, migrants often experience a particular deterioration of working conditions and social rights.

This is the compelling context for including protection of labour standards for migrant workers in initiatives for reshaping global governance with the aim to balance the power of financial and economic institutions with a universal floor of established social rights.

On this background major international organizations, including UNESCO, have sought to establish global normative frameworks concerned with human and labour rights and fair rules for cross-border movement. Among them is the UN initiative for 'fair globalization'. Another is the ILO's 'decent work agenda' aiming at global consensus on labour norms, focusing on working conditions and labour rights of migrant workers, including irregular migrants. In addition, a range of civil society movements and organizations at national, regional and global level, are engaged in analyzing and redefining issues of migration and global governance in the nexus of human rights, social rights and labour rights.


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