Here’s a question: What do the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, your computer, and the lettuce for this evening’s salad all have in common? They all rely on migrant workers. Hundreds of thousands of migrants build buildings in the Middle East, assemble electronics for global brands in Malaysia, and do the bulk of the farming in almost every country around the world. Migrant workers are the life blood of globalization – without them many important jobs would not get done and your food and gadgets would cost a lot more. Without the equal parts courage and desperation they demonstrate in going abroad, and the remittances they send back to their families, their home communities in the Philippines, India, Nepal and Guatemala would be even poorer than they are now.
A second question: How can we strengthen human rights, reduce income inequality and improve corporate responsibility all at the same time? Helping labor migrants achieve their goals supports progress towards these broader societal goals as well. The best thing is, we don’t need to invent anything new in order to achieve a great deal of progress. We know what changes – in policy and corporate practice – can make a big difference for vulnerable people. Government guest visa programs should allow workers to switch jobs once they arrive at their destination, if the working conditions turn out to be exploitative. Companies should make sure that the workers who make their goods didn’t pay fees to get the job.
The World Economic Forum meetings are tailor-made to elaborate interventions like these that can meet individual, institutional and societal goals at once. The Forum’s multi-stakeholder approach gives those of us from small social enterprises the opportunity to find the intersection of our interests with multinational companies and governments. Before the Annual Meeting officially kicks off, in a series of small private meetings over the past two days, we’ve already explored collaborations to find shared value for companies and migrant workers around major sporting events and discussed new ways to articulate in financial terms the benefit from treating supply chain workers well.
The opportunity is big. Hundreds of thousands of workers are even tonight preparing to embark on a life-changing trip abroad, for work. Our conversations this week in Davos can help determine whether they end up richer or poorer.
Today’s complex supply chains pose challenges to the implementation of international labour standards at manufacturing sites employing hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Verité works with large multinationals to ensure accountability for problems like discrimination, sexual harassment, excessive working hours, poor safety conditions, and wrongful termination. Verité helps clients to embed social responsibility standards into their operations, improving conditions for 8 million workers globally to date.
Image: A migrant construction worker washes outside his dormitory after a working shift in Shanghai REUTERS/Aly Song