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Adrift on an ocean of rules

Gerrie Lodder has published an article in the Dutch legal periodical Nederlands Juristenblad on the exploitation of labour migrants from the perspective of human rights.

Gerrie Lodder
20 March 2018

In March 2017, Greece was convicted by the European Court of Human Rights for a violation of Article 4 of the Convention. The case was about employees from Bangladesh working at a strawberry farm in Greece. They had to make very long days under harsh conditions and were supervised by armed guards.  They did not receive the agreed salary. The  Court concluded that the employees were in a situation of forced labour and human trafficking. The Greek authorities were aware, or could have been aware of the situation after complains, but did not take proper action to protect the employees. The exploitation of migrant workers is also regularly in the news in the Netherlands. For example, the exploitation of asylum seekers by four brothers in a laundry in Zaandam or the exploitation of Hungarian migrant truck drivers.

Labour exploitation and human trafficking are generally seen as a flagrant human rights violation. In the case of labour exploitation, the fundamental principles of freedom, equality and human dignity are under pressure. To do justice to the victim, a purely criminal-law approach is insufficient. With a criminal law approach, the focus is on prosecution and punishment of the perpetrators. A human rights approach, on the other hand, focuses on the victims of labour exploitation rather than the perpetrators.

This article investigates if  a human rights approach to labour exploitation can contribute to improving the position of exploited labour migrants. The  perspective of the individual labour migrant is taken as a starting point. The conclusion is that a sufficient human rights framework does not guarantee an adequate  human rights approach at individual level. An  obligation, hard or otherwise, for States to provide a right of residence to victims of labour exploitation cannot be determined on the basis of the human rights acquis. Finally, the fragmentation of human rights standards between different treaties and different supervisory bodies with different mandates impedes the possibility of enforcing these standards.

The full article can be accessed on the website of the Nederlands Juristenblad.


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