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Migrant workers in global supply chains

The ILO estimates there are over 169 million international migrant workers globally. In some regions and particular sectors, migrants make up the majority or a significant minority of the workforce. In each of the Gulf states, for example, migrants make up between 60 and 95% of the working population. Northern, Southern and Western Europe, and North America are also key receiving regions for migrant workers. Globally, in sectors such as construction, agriculture, transport and health care, migrants make a vital contribution. However, while labour migration brings economic, social, and cultural benefits to migrants, and to their countries of origin and destination, migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

Such labour violations begin during recruitment, when many workers are charged extortionate or illegal recruitment fees, while employers fail to take responsibility for covering the cost of recruitment (Employer Pays Principle), to detect and reimburse payments. This can lead to deleterious human rights impacts, including debt bondage for individuals, and negatively impact on countries where remittances form a large contribution to GDP, such as Nepal. Recruitment agencies may also promise good working conditions that do not materialise upon arrival. Low-income migrants are particularly over-represented in sectors with high degrees of informality that lack labour rights protection. Further, migrant workers may have limited knowledge of their labour rights in or the language of the host nation, key barriers to support and remedy.

Migrants’ immigration status also catalyses precarity. For example, the temporary nature of migrants’ work and residency reduce migrants’ ability to bargain collectively for improved conditions. In some jurisdictions, workers do not have access to voting or membership rights to belong to unions. Sponsorship policies tying migrants’ right to remain to their employment contract lead to workers’ remaining silent on abuse. Undocumented workers particularly fear reprisals due to the threat of deportation. Employers may further control workers by withholding their passports, an ILO indicator of forced labour.

These vulnerabilities increase migrants risk of experiencing a range of labour rights violations, such as wage theft, discrimination, and hazardous occupational health and safety. Such exploitation contrasts acutely with the huge profits earned by industries across the globe that are dependent upon migrant workers.

On the new law [abolishing the No-Objection Certificate], to be honest, it’s just there on mere paper because these employers are not signing the resignation letters. Instead, they go ahead and cancel your visa and, before you know it, they forcefully repatriate you back to your country. On extreme cases they go further and report you as a runaway worker to the CID [Criminal Investigation Department].
East African hotel driver in Qatar

By the numbers (January 2022 - July 2023)

We track cases of alleged abuse of migrant workers globally, including by sector of employment, nationality and type of abuse.


Alleged cases

Tracked since January 2022


Agri-food supply chains and Construction

Account for the largest proportion of cases by sector.



Most commonly reported destination region


Violations of employment standards

Are the most frequently reported abuse; wage theft is the most common (42%)

Whenever we find public reports of companies abusing workers, we take up the allegation directly with companies (our Company Response Mechanism), particularly where abuse concerns workers employed in the supply chains of international brands. Recently, company outreach has included alleged abuse of migrant fishers in UK fishing supply chains, Nepali agriculture workers in Malaysia regarding wage theft and physical abuse, and recruitment fee-charging for Nepali workers destined for UAE hotels.

Since January 2022, we have tracked cases of alleged abuse of migrant workers around the world, impacting thousands of workers employed across multiple sectors and regions. Wage theft, charging of recruitment fees and a lack of access to remedy characterise the cases, which relies on public reported by news outlets and NGOs. Our data relating to migrant workers in the Gulf, dates back to January 2016. The tracker enables us to monitor rights violations even where companies are untraceable and sits alongside our Company Response Mechanism as a tool to increase corporate transparency and accountability. Please contact us for more information on our databases.

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