Migration for employment—whether overseas or internally—is driven by similar factors: poverty, debt, and lack of job opportunities at home, as well as the prospect of better jobs and higher salaries elsewhere. India and Bangladesh are significant “labor-sending” countries with, between them, some 25 million people working abroad, and many attendant social, economic, and ethical issues. To assess labor migration and related topics in these two countries, the Population Council conducted a series of studies in partnership with the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery (GFEMS) and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD).

With the largest emigrant population in the world, India has nearly 18 million people living abroad. Twenty-eight percent of this population are unskilled and semi-skilled laborers living temporarily in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. Labor migration to these countries from India is often “debt financed” and there are large gaps in evidence on how indebtedness shapes migration decision-making, work-related choices and experiences, freedom in the migration process, remittance-sending behavior, and experiences upon return to India. The Council undertook a multi-component study to better understand the relationship between debt and overseas labor migration from India, which sheds light on costs incurred and the role of debt in financing migration, migration-related decisions, work-related choices and experiences, and financial vulnerabilities faced in India and overseas.

ASK’s safe migration project in India
Migration to Gulf countries is dominated by workers who work on a contract basis and who return home once their contract expires. The Indian government has introduced measures to promote safe overseas migration for work, but labor exploitations in the India-GCC migration corridors are widely documented. GFEMS in partnership with NORAD supported the Association for Stimulating Know-how (ASK) in pilot-testing a project to build a safe labor-migration ecosystem in source communities in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, India. The project established Migrant Resource Centers, integrated intervention activities, and worked with civil society organizations to build their internal systems and resilience to establish, sustain, and effectively run the centers and provide services. The Council undertook a community-based quantitative study to assess male migrants’ awareness of, and engagement with, the ASK project, and examined improvement in knowledge about safe migration pathways.

Addressing commercial sexual exploitation of women and children
On any given day, 6.3 million people worldwide are in situations of forced commercial sexual exploitation (CSE), according to the Global Estimates of Modern Slavery 2021 report. Asia and the Pacific region are host to more than half of the global total of forced labor, including those in CSE. Bangladesh is one of the three main countries of origin for trafficked individuals in South Asia. India has been identified as a source, destination, and transit location for trafficking of forced labor, including CSE. Though both governments are committed to preventing and combating trafficking and CSE of women and children, critical gaps in implementation remain, along with inadequate victim care. The Council undertook a qualitative study to assess and compare the acceptability of three prevention and reintegration projects to address CSE in Bangladesh and India. The study examined intervention coherence, affective attitude, self-efficacy, and perceived effectiveness of the interventions. The projects have demonstrated the feasibility of providing victim-centered, trauma-informed, and culturally competent care and support to victims of CSE.

Ethical recruitment and employment in India’s construction industry
In India, the construction industry is the second-largest employer, employing 51 million workers. Contracting and subcontracting has contributed to the rise of intermediary labor contractors who provide migrants with information about labor markets and bring them to construction sites for work. Engagement in physically demanding low-skill jobs, low wages, harsh working conditions, and often deplorable living arrangements characterize the lives of many migrant construction workers. Sustained action by the central government and state governments is critical for promoting ethical recruitment and employment practices. A qualitative study to explore the nature of the labor supply chain in the construction industry and the relationship between workers, micro-contractors, other contractors, and construction firms/companies was undertaken by the Council. The study also explored vulnerabilities faced by migrant construction workers, perceptions of workers and micro-contractors about ethical recruitment and employment practices, and challenges faced by micro-contractors in following these ethical recruitment and employment practices.

Assessing overseas labor migration systems in Bangladesh
With about 7.8 million migrants abroad, Bangladesh ranks as the sixth largest “labor-sending” country. International labor migration is a priority agenda for the Bangladesh government, as the country’s economy is highly dependent on international migrants’ remittances, which constitute about seven percent of its gross domestic product. A majority of the migrant workers (64%) from Bangladesh migrate to the Gulf and Arab countries, while the remaining workers migrate to Southeast Asia. From the early 1990s, along with male migrants, Bangladesh started to send women from its international labor migration pool, with the majority joining the overseas labor force as domestic workers. Amid the continuous outflow of migrant workers, the overseas recruitment system persists in being complicated—migrants are often subject to human trafficking, forced labor, and modern slavery. Without fair recruitment abroad and safe return home, sustainable reintegration is difficult to ensure. The Council undertook a qualitative study of migrants in Faridpur and Munshiganjs to better understand the kinds of policies, programs, and initiatives that could facilitate safer overseas labor migration for Bangladeshi migrant workers.