Nepal: Amnesty International survey documents exploitation of migrant workers by recruitment agents charging excessive, illegal fees

In December 2017, Amnesty International conducted a survey of 414 Nepali migrant workers. The results revealed that 88% reported that they paid fees to recruitment agents for their jobs overseas. Most workers also had to take out high-interest loans to pay off the fees, trapping them in “a vicious cycle of debt and exploitation.” The survey also found that 53% of workers received lower monthly salaries than what was promised to them by recruitment agents in Nepal, thereby adding to the burden of accumulating debt.

Based on the findings, Amnesty called on the Nepali government to do more to protect migrant workers by enforcing its "Free Visa, Free Ticket" policy and penalizing recruitment agents that do not comply with the law. It also calls on businesses to take steps to prevent exploitative labour recruitment and ensure that migrants in their supply and contracting chains who have paid recruitment fees are reimbursed.

Amnesty's press release and full report are available below.

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Article
3 January 2018

Nepal: Migrant workers failed by government, exploited by businesses

Author: Amnesty International

New research by Amnesty International has exposed how the Nepali government’s failure to crack down on recruitment agencies which charge illegal fees for jobs abroad is leaving migrant workers trapped in a vicious cycle of debt and exploitation. The organization found that almost two-thirds of Nepali migrant workers who responded to a survey, carried out in Nepal and Malaysia and published today, had paid excessive, illegal recruitment fees...The vast majority (88%) of participants in Amnesty International’s mobile phone survey of 414 Nepali migrant workers reported that they paid fees to agents for their jobs overseas. Because these fees are so high, the majority had to borrow more than half the sum from village moneylenders, placing them in debt. Workers’ calculations about how they will repay these loans are often derailed by unpaid wages or other forms of labour exploitation. More than half of the workers (53%) surveyed said that they received lower monthly salaries than what was promised to them by recruitment agents...

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Report
3 January 2018

The debt trap: how business and government undermine Nepali migrants’ efforts to escape poverty

Author: Amnesty International

...A new survey we conducted with 414 Nepali migrant workers adds to this picture. Using a worker voice platform called Laborlink, Amnesty collaborated with several migrants’ rights organizations, including the Pravasi Nepal Coordination Committee (PNCC), the North South Initiative and the SaMi Project/Helevatas Swiss Intercooperation Nepal, to engage groups of migrant workers to take surveys on their mobile phones. The data we collected, alongside other evidence from our investigations in Nepal, helps unpick the systemic problem of migrant worker debts and raises questions about who is really prepared to tackle the issue of indebtedness. If we hope to make progress on eliminating modern slavery in global supply chains, as many states now do with their new anti-slavery legislation, then tackling the extortionate fees that millions of labour migrants pay must be at the top of the priority list.

[F]our Nepali workers whose agents deceived them about their working conditions… were told they would work in a factory in Malaysia making labels for plastic bottles; but instead, they were sent to a steel manufacturer and asked to perform dangerous jobs without training. After witnessing several on-the-job injuries, the four men tried to leave but the company would not pay for their tickets home or return their passports. Heavily indebted after paying US $1,200 in recruitment fees, the men said they were trapped, scared, and unable to return home without money to buy plane tickets.

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