Key Recommendation 7: Meaningful bilateral agreements

Bilateral agreements should be binding and include practical fair recruitment requirements with transparent oversight mechanisms.
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Workers from Myanmar at a Mae Sot factory, 2020. © Jittapron Kaicome

The primary purpose of labour migration MOUs, for both origin and destination countries in this study, is to facilitate labour migration, with fair recruitment concerns and worker protection given varying degrees of attention within this framework. Where MOUs do include substantive measures and mechanisms, they are generally negotiated by officials in private. Trade unions and civil society organizations are not involved in their negotiation, oversight or implementation. The effect of all of this is to nullify the potential positive impact of such agreements: even where fair recruitment measures are included, there is little practical way for workers to claim these, with implementation largely left to rest on overstretched origin state consular officials. This is particularly difficult given that labour migration MOUs are normally not legally binding.

The more open, inclusive and practical a bilateral MOU or agreement is, the more likely it is to have meaningful impact for workers. Even MOUs with solid human rights principles in them are unlikely to make a real difference if they have no implementing mechanisms. MOUs that for example establish a role for origin state governments in monitoring and enforcement, or allow origin state embassies to insist on certain actions by destination state governments, can add value to the benefit of workers.

Without such measures, it is difficult to see how such MOUs add to the protections migrant workers enjoy under destination state legislation. Additionally, the fact that few governments involve the organizations that support and represent workers in the negotiation and implementation of these agreements is a significant factor in undermining the potential MOUs have for impact. In respect of bilateral agreements, governments should:

7.1. In bilateral negotiations over any agreements, press partner states to sign binding agreements that contain practical mechanisms to protect the human rights of migrant workers.

7.2. Ensure all agreements are made public, are accessible and are posted on the website of the diplomatic mission in the counterpart state, in the language most commonly used by migrant workers.

7.3. Establish and activate meaningful and regular review processes, that include the full and active participation of worker organisations, to evaluate the implementation of any bilateral agreements.