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AUTHOR: Amish Karki
BACKGROUND
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of migrant workers have been repatriated back to
their home countries with months of unpaid wages and benefits due. The issue of wage theft is endemic
for migrant workers which has been further exacerbated by the current crisis. To aggravate the
situation, migrant workers being repatriated have not been given any opportunity to lodge claims
against the abuse, decimating their right to access justice. Wage theft is a violation of labour rights.
Each year millions of dollars are lost in potential remittances due to wage theft but in times of this
pandemic, wage theft is projected to lead to situations of debt bondage – as migrant workers will be
forced to pay off the debt incurred to cover recruitment fees and costs, despite returning empty
handed.
In response to this injustice, civil society organisations and trade unions have launched an appeal to
governments and businesses to take immediate action to establish a transitional justice mechanism to
address wage-related grievances of migrant workers impacted by this pandemic. The appeal seeks
businesses to fulfill their obligations under the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights
(UNGPs) – to respect fundamental labour and human rights of migrant workers, including paying their
entitlements. Businesses are called upon to support the appeal to establish a robust mechanism for
migrant workers with claims to provide access to remedy, and to voluntarily mobilize resources towards
a compensation fund2.
This policy brief will look at the issue of wage theft, what businesses can do to ensure migrant workers’
rights are respected and how businesses can become a catalyst for change in shaping a just world post
pandemic.

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This document is developed as an outcome of discussions between civil society members, UN agencies, business and
human rights experts, and business representatives in August 2020. In a webinar hosted by Migrant Forum in Asia, Cross
Regional Center for Refugees and Migrants and GRFDT – the speakers provided advice and recommendation on the role of
business in preventing human rights abuses and providing effective remedies. The information and opinions contained
herein is a guidance to businesses for ensuring justice for migrant workers particularly on the issue of wage theft.
2 https://mfasia.org/covid-19-a-time-for-businesses-to-act-responsibly-in-ensuring-justice-for-migrant-workers/

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