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From Vulnerability to Exploitation: Bangladeshi Migrant Workers
in the Maldives

Migration impacts and transforms not only individual lives, but also societies, and economies on a grandeur scale. The symbiotic and mutual impact of migration has been largely positive, wherein migration and socio-economic development are intertwined. This is evident in the case of Maldives, where for decades, migrant workers from the South Asian region, particularly Bangladesh, have played vital roles in national development and growth by filling the necessary gaps in low-skilled employment as locals venture into tertiary industries. Despite the steady influx of workers, the implementation of the legislative and institutional framework to accommodate foreign labour has continued to be lax.  

From Vulnerability To Exploitation Bangladeshi Migrant Workers In the Maldives

From Exploitation to Decent Work Policy Paper

Such paper-park policies and its enforcement are often not informed or reflected by the lived experiences of those who are impacted by it. The existing mechanism has been inadequate in addressing the resulting human rights and labour rights violations, ranging from wage theft, exploitative working and living conditions, confiscation of identification documents, to charging of abhorrent recruitment fees. The resulting issues and challenges faced by the migrant population continue to be viewed negatively, and has been considered a sensitive, political subject, often addressed with nationalistic ideologies.  
This study delves into the issues and challenges faced by the migrant community within three key thematic areas: migration, labour exploitation and human trafficking, with the objective to grasp the prevalence of these issues, and its conceptualisation. Within this scope, the recruitment of workers, their legal statuses, working conditions, occupational safety, health and industrial action, and discrimination faced by workers are further explores. A quantitative questionnaire formulated based on the ILO Operational Indicators of Trafficking of Adults for Labour Exploitation, adopted to the local context, was utilised to collect information. 847 responses were collected from adult, Bangladeshi workers in the Maldives, which indicated the prevalence of human rights and labour rights violations. The findings of the study were reviewed in light of the literature and secondary data compiled, which implies that the current mechanism is inadequate to address the plights of the Bangladeshi migrant workers in the Maldives.  

These experiences were evaluated based on a continuum, with the ILO’s decent work principles at one end, and forced labour and trafficking at the other. Although it is likely that the majority of the responses cannot be classified at either end of the continuum, indicating that the experiences of workers fall among the continuum, the current mechanism disregards their lived experiences, and does not recognise exploitation, and infringement of rights at different levels. This creates a “hierarchy of suffering” among workers, wherein their issues are not acknowledged, and they are unable to access remedies unless they are subjected to severe exploitation.  

Hence, this study sheds light onto the variety of experiences and highlights the need for a range of remedies and corrective measures. The findings are intended to contribute to the amendment of current policies, enactment of future policies and the framing of the relevant institutional mechanisms to adopt a rights-based and holistic approach to labour migration management and combatting trafficking in persons in the Maldives.  

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