Category Archives: Organized by MMN

Workshop on Frameworks on Migrant Labour in the Fishing Industry in the Mekong

On 5 August 2018, Mekong Migration Network (MMN) organised a workshop entitled “Frameworks on Migrant Labour in the Fishing Industry in the Mekong” at the Empress Hotel in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The workshop aimed to: 1) clarify the concepts of various frameworks surrounding/relating to labour migration, such as trafficking, slavery, forced labour, etc; 2) examine the implications of these frameworks on labour migration, particularly on migrant labour in fisheries; and 3) exchange views on what can be done to protect the rights of migrant workers and their families in fisheries. Approximately 30 representatives of civil society organisations (CSOs) working on labour migration throughout the Greater Mekong Sub-region attended the workshop.

The workshop started with a presentation by Ms. Jackie Pollock, a representative from the International Labour Organization (ILO), Myanmar, who clarified the concepts of various frameworks. Ms. Pollock provided definitions on the key terms often applied to the conditions of migrant labour in the fishing industry, including human trafficking, smuggling, forced labour, slavery and decent work. She emphasised that international laws do not clearly specify the situations under which each framework should be adopted. This has led to the different approaches adopted to address the exploitation of migrants in the fishing industry, including the 3Ps/4Ps (Prevention, Protection, Prosecution & and Partnership), anti-slavery, corporate social responsibility, United Nation Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, Decent Work and FLEX (Focus on Labour Exploitation). During the discussion following the presentation, Ms. Pollock also pointed out the need to challenge the Thai government’s use of an anti-trafficking framework to address the issues in the fishing industry. Such a framework draws energy, resources and commitment away from the empowerment of migrants and the promotion of their labour rights, and instead places its focus on prosecuting traffickers and victimising migrants. She believed that the government’s adoption of this framework reflects its fear that migrants would be able to unionise, exercise their rights and become a threat to be reckoned with.

The plenary session was followed by the screening of a recent Human Rights Watch’s documentary entitled, “Thailand: Forced Labour, Trafficking Persist in Fishing Fleets,” which explores the changes (and the lack thereof) in the fishing industry after the Thai government stepped up its efforts to stop human trafficking and forced labour in the industry. To view the documentary, please visit:

In the second plenary entitled, “Understanding the Day-to-Day Reality of Working at Sea”, Mr. Sompong Srakaew from the Labour Rights Promotion Network Foundation (LPN) presented on the situation of migrant workers in the fishing industry in Thailand and LPN’s initiatives to provide assistance to workers in the industry. Mr. Sompong expressed his concerns about the effectiveness of government measures, especially the implementation of mechanisms to manage and protect migrant workers. In one case where several fishery workers were stranded in Indonesia and continued to endure physical abuse and severe working conditions that sometimes resulted in their deaths, the Thai government only offered support to the Thai workers on board, rather than the Myanmar and Cambodian workers who were also on the Thai vessel. In light of this, LPN aims to support both Thai and migrant fishery workers by assisting them in forming unions to raise their voices and promote their rights.

Mr. Tun Lin from the Thai and Migrant Fisheries Union Group (TMFG) then presented on his 11 years of experience working as a fishery worker.  He spoke of the exploitative and rights-violating practices that he lived through first hand, such as not being paid his salary, not receiving rest periods even when he was sick, and not being compensated when he lost his fingers from an accident in Indonesia–experiences that motivated him to become a migrant leader and collaborate with Thai fishery workers to help other migrants exercise their rights. Mr. Tun Lin and LPN’s mission to assist fishery workers stranded in Indonesia was filmed and made into a documentary titled, “Ghost Fleets”. For further information about the documentary, please visit:

In the last plenary entitled, “How are different frameworks used to understand the situation of migrant labour in the fishing industry and what are the implications for policy and programme formulation?”, Mr. Sokchar Mom from Legal Support for Children and Women (LSCW) discussed the frameworks adopted in Cambodia to protect fishery workers. Mr. Mom noted that laws and policies related to migrants in the fishing industry in Cambodia remain unclear, as the government neither regulates nor bans practices in the industry, which causes migrants to become more vulnerable. He highlighted that current protection programmes focused on trafficked victims have been established under multi-responsive approaches, but seemed to fail when people under the programme continue to re-migrate instead of going through the government assistance process.   

Mr. Phil Robertson from Human Rights Watch (HRW) then shared the findings of a recent HRW report that discussed the ongoing cases of forced labour in the fishing industry. Despite the Thai government’s efforts to regulate migration and employment in the fishing industry, unlicensed brokers continue to operate and working conditions have not improved in reality. HRW key recommendations include: drafting a stand-alone law on forced labour, ending restrictions on freedom of movement, granting permission to travel out of province, delinking the status of migrant workers to their employers, implementing an effective complaint mechanisms, publishing a watch list of companies and CEOs with history of Trafficking In Person (TIP) and forced labour, amending the Labour Relations Act to permit migrant workers to form and lead their own unions, ratifying ILO Conventions 87 on the Freedom of Association, Convention 98 on the Right to Organize and Collectively Bargain, and Convention 188 on work in Fishing.

In the ensuing discussion, participants raised their concerns with the ongoing harsh working conditions in the fishing industry and the dysfunctional protection mechanisms. Aside from the ineffective laws and regulations concerning migration management, fishing associations often serve as additional obstacles to migrants obtaining and exercising their full rights. Participants also shared their own experiences with advocating for migrant workers’ rights and made suggestions on advocacy strategies to more effectively promote migrant workers’ rights in the fishing industry.



The Mekong Migration Network and Clean Clothes Campaign co-organise a series of back-to-back workshops on the global garment industry

In January 2018, the Mekong Migration Network and Clean Clothes Campaign joined forces to co-organise a series of back-to-back workshops on the global garment industry with a particular focus on the garment-producing country of Myanmar (Burma).

Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) is a global alliance of trade unions and NGOs, based in both garment-producing and consuming markets, that are dedicated to improving working conditions and empowering workers in the garment industry. CCC works in solidarity with organised garment factory workers to develop concrete cases of labour rights violations and execute campaign strategies to pressure companies and governments to ensure that the rights of these workers are implemented and respected.

In collaboration with the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), MMN is conducting a research and advocacy project exploring the policies and practices of the garment industry operating in industrial zones and Special Economic Zones in Myanmar, Thailand, and Cambodia. The project will investigate how these particular environments impact cross-border and internal women migrant workers’ working and living conditions, life choices, participation in collective action, and relationship with local communities.

In recognition of the rapid expansion of Myanmar’s export-oriented garment industry and the subsequent need to better understand the challenges facing workers in this sector, MMN and CCC co-hosted a workshop and network exchange on 15 and 16 January in Yangon. On 15 January, 21 representatives from Yangon-based trade unions and civil society organisations, as well as 9 people representing trade unions and organisations from Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Indonesia, India, Thailand, and the Netherlands, gathered at Sagawa Meeting Spaces to participate in the MMN/CCC Garment Worker Labour Rights Workshop. By means of interactive presentations, group discussions, and activities, participants exchanged information on the key challenges facing garment factory workers and labour rights activists in their countries as well as strategies used to promote and protect the rights of these workers.

On 16 January, 6 trade union and CSO representatives from Korea, the Philippines, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Norway joined the previous day’s participants for the MMN/CCC Network Exchange. This meeting carved a space for Myanmar unions and organisations to share information on the garment industry in Myanmar, the challenges being faced by Yangon garment factory workers, and the interests and priorities of unions and labour organisations. The meeting provided an opportunity for Myanmar organisations to better understand the workings of MMN and CCC respectively, as well as develop partnerships with likeminded groups in other countries.

Following a fruitful exchange, CCC network members and MMN project partners relocated to Bangkok to partake in a three-day CCC Urgent Appeals Global Meeting. From 17-19 January, around 60 people from over 20 countries across Asia, Europe, and North America met to review, evaluate, and improve upon CCC’s internal campaigning system. During the meeting, the MMN Secretariat made a presentation on the implications of Special Economic Zones for workers in the Greater Mekong Subregion as part of a series of presentations on global trends affecting the garment industry. The MMN Secretariat and project partners also had an opportunity to present an overview of the joint MMN-AIT research project and seek feedback on advocacy strategies from members of CCC.

While wearied from organising and participating in consecutive meetings, MMN project partners and Secretariat members departed Bangkok feeling inspired by the momentum of the CCC network and the possibility of joining forces again in the future to advocate for the protection of the rights of garment factory workers in the Mekong.


The Second Project Consultation Meeting for an MMN-AIT Joint Project on Special Economic Zones and the Garment Industry

In collaboration with the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), MMN is conducting a research and advocacy project exploring the policies and practices of the garment industry operating in industrial zones and Special Economic Zones in Burma/Myanmar, Thailand, and Cambodia. The project is investigating how these particular environments impact cross-border and internal women migrant workers’ working and living conditions, life choices, participation in collective action, and relationship with local communities.

On 13 and 14 January 2018, MMN project partners and Secretariat members, AIT project personnel, and resources persons congregated at Sagawa Meeting Spaces in Yangon, Myanmar, for the Second Project Consultation Meeting. The objectives of the meeting were: (1) for project partners to share information on the progress of the research and reflect on key issues and challenges; (2) to jointly review and analyse preliminary findings from data collection activities; (3) to jointly discuss future data collection activities, including in-depth interviews, focus group discussions, and key informant interviews; (4) to jointly discuss advocacy targets and strategies; and (5) to jointly draft a work plan and review the budget for the remainder of the project.

From November 2016 to February 2017, preliminary studies were conducted in each of the five study sites: Yangon, Mae Sot, Bangkok, Phnom Penh, and Bavet. During these studies, local research teams and representatives of the MMN Secretariat and AIT jointly discussed the project’s core research questions, methodology, and benefits, and conducting preliminary interviews with key informants, including government officials and zone management committees, and garment factory workers to better understand the context of each area.

Based on a review of relevant literature, internal meeting discussions, and the preliminary studies, garment factory worker questionnaires were drafted and translated, and enumerator trainings were conducted with local research teams. With 200 questionnaires in the process of being completed with workers in each study site, translated, encoded and analysed, project partners, the MMN Secretariat, and AIT looked to the next phase of the project. Moving forward, MMN partners, Secretariat members, and AIT will work together to conduct in-depth interviews and focus group discussions with workers, carry out additional key informant interviews, draft a final report and country-specific policy briefs, present initial findings at a joint multi-stakeholder meeting, and launch the report and recommendations at provincial-level stakeholder meetings within the course of this year.


Highlights of the MMN Policy Dialogue on the Roles of Countries of Origin

Highlights of the MMN Policy Dialogue on the Roles of Countries of Origin, held in Yangon on the 20-21 July 2017.

For proceedings of the MMN Policy Dialogue on the Roles of Countries of Origin are being finalized, please visit our website later again for update information.

MMN’s new report, “Safe from the Start: Roles of Countries of Origin in Protecting Migrants”, now available in Burmese, English, and Khmer. Please click on the links below to download the full report.

English version: Safe from the Start_English

Khmer version: Safe from the Start_Khmer

Burmese version: Safe from the Start_Burmese

MMIN in media: Migrant worker protections ‘lacking’, reports find ( Phnom Penh Post)

Cambodian migrant workers who were deported by Thai authorities are processed at the Poipet Transit Centre earlier this month in Banteay Meanchey province. Sahiba Chawdhary

Cambodia lacks effective mechanisms to protect its citizens working both as legal and undocumented migrants abroad, where such workers also face insufficient protection from the countries that receive them, according to two new reports published last week.

The reports come at a time of major crackdowns on undocumented migrants in the region. Thousands of Cambodians have returned home after Thailand passed new laws imposing strict punishments on undocumented workers and their employers, while Malaysia has arrested thousands of workers since July 1 in a campaign against undocumented migrants.

Mekong Migration Network’s (MMN) report Safe from the Start – The Roles of Countries of Origin in Protecting Migrants found in interviews with Cambodian migrant workers that the Kingdom needs to better regulate its recruitment agencies, reduce costs and time for legal migration channels, provide better overseas assistance and establish effective complaint mechanisms. They also recommend strengthening predeparture training.

Reiko Harima, MMN regional coordinator, said in an email that “the most urgent tasks for Cambodia are to improve overseas assistance, and also to negotiate with Thailand to improve conditions for migrant workers”.

“[Migrants] reported to MMN that when they have approached embassies for help, they were not given assistance,” she said. What’s more, she added, “Cambodian migrants leaving Thailand experience difficulty securing the social security benefits that they are entitled to, as there is no practical mechanism for the transfer of money.”

In a push to document migrant workers in Thailand, Cambodia’s Labour Ministry in a statement yesterday clarified the procedure: Thai employers have to register their undocumented Cambodian workers by August 7 at one of the 97 newly established offices in Thailand, where Cambodians workers then have to present themselves between August 8 and September 9. Until December 31, workers “must not change the employer or locations, or resign without permission”.

Ministry spokesperson Heng Sour in a Facebook video on Sunday said the procedure benefited the workers, who would “get the salary based on the law of Thailand, get health and life insurance during the work and get the National Social Security from the Thai government”.

But Moeun Tola, director of labour rights group Central, yesterday said that this was insufficient. “It’s not effective enough yet, since some employers prefer hiring undocumented workers instead of documented ones,” he said.

However, Cambodia doesn’t bear sole responsibility for protecting its migrants, according to a report titled Towards a Comprehensive National Policy on Labour Migration for Malaysia.

The Migrant Workers Right to Redress Coalition expressed concern regarding recruitment processes – which they say have to be formalised and regulated better – and a number of other issues facing migrant workers, including Cambodians, in Malaysia.

“[There] is no comprehensive national policy on labour migration, to ensure . . . that abuses against workers, social dislocation, profiteering, human trafficking and modern day slavery are rooted out and stopped,” it reads.

Adrian Pereira, a coordinator for the North-South Initiative who was involved in the drafting of the paper, said in a message that the most urgent concern was that agreements between Cambodia and Malaysia and workers’ contracts should “guarantee basic rights of workers at all stages of recruitment to employment to return”. “Only when rights [are] in black and white can we ensure [they are] materialised and not based on ‘good will’ of any party.”

These rights include decent salaries, working hours, vacation days and more, he said.

Tan Heang-Lee, communications’ officer at Women’s Aid Organisation Malaysia, said that women were particularly vulnerable. “There must be greater recognition of domestic work as work, and of domestic workers as employees,” she said. “Migrant domestic workers are excluded from many of the protections and provisions of the Employment Act.”


By: Leonie Kijewski and Soth Koemsoeun, Phnom Penh Post

Published on: 25 July 2017



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