Conference: Plan of Action from Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (5/97)

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GBCaldwell (
Fri, 10 Apr 1998 12:34:55 EDT




Participants at the North American Regional Consultative Forum on
Trafficking in Women representing aboriginal women, domestic workers, sex
workers, migrant workers, and activists from grass-roots organisations
representing the above, as well as human rights and labour advocates,
scholars and activists-writers came together in this forum to address the
issue of 'trafficking' in women, forced labour, slavery and slavery-like
practices. The participants share as common principles the following: the
right of women to paid work, to migrate, to safe working conditions, just
compensation, and human dignity. Laws and policies should clearly address
the abusive conditions women are subjected to in the process of recruitment
and transport, and the exploitative and abusive working conditions, such
as, denial of freedom of movement, withholding of papers, breaching of
contracts, deceit in nature of conditions of work, and physical as well as
psychological abuse. Since there is a lot of confusion about the
definition of trafficking as it is currently used in conventions,
legislation and policy discussions, we have clearly committed ourselves to
reconceptualizing the definitions of 'trafficking', forced labour and
slavery-like practices to more accurately expose the abusive elements.
Therefore, we propose the following definitions:

A new definition of 'trafficking' for use in legislation needs to be
adopted. This definition should be consistent with the understanding that
trafficking in women refers to: "All acts of violence in the recruitment
and/or transportation of women within and across national borders for work
or services by means of violence or threat of violence, abuse of authority
or dominant position, debt-bondage, deception or other forms of coercion.

A new definition of forced labour and slavery-like practices needs to be
adopted for use in legislation consistent with the view that these refer
to: "the extraction of work or services from any woman or the appropriation
of the legal identity and/or physical person of any woman by means of
violence or threat of violence, abuse of authority or dominant position,
debt-bondage, deception or other forms of coercion.

Laws against forced labour and slavery-like practices are rarely enforced
in the context of women's labour, most specifically, in the context of
prostitution, domestic work and marital arrangements. Nonetheless,
offenses can be clearly identified according to the above definition by the
public and by authorities in diverse contexts. Participants at the Forum,
like other advocates of human rights worldwide, are in strong agreement
about the need to outlaw such practices as outlined regardless of
geo-political location, age, gender, nationality, legal or sexual status of
the person concerned. Laws against trafficking are also rarely enforced;
however, given serious divergence of existing legal definitions and their
applications throughout the century, participants at this consultation and
other regional meetings of the International Report Project found
themselves in conflict. On the one hand, many activist allies consider the
trafficking concept and the revised definition based upon force as a tool
for raising public consciousness and for insisting upon government
accountability. On the other hand, since most governments define
trafficking simply by recruitment and transport for the purposes of
prostitution, regardless of conditions of force, any enforcement of current
legislation implies the criminalization of migrant and non-migrant sex
workers. Many activists therefore call for a repeal of the term
"trafficking" given the ambiguous, repressive framework that denies women
the right to travel and work as prostitutes. However, the participants of
this Forum felt that the revised definition of trafficking which
incorporates both, recruitment and transportation practices as well as
conditions of work, and places the principal focus on abuse and abusive
practices adequately reflects the experience of those women who have been
denied their full agency either during transport or at their site of work.

 Within the context of globalisation, conditions are worsening for women,
amongst others as a result of, structural adjustment programs; the IMF and
WB policies; free trade agreements; free enterprise zones; the operations
of multi-national corporations; and mechanisms of privatization and
deregulation. This is particularly true for women from the economically
underprivileged countries. Against a background of shrinking options in
the means for earning a livelihood, and burdened by the responsibility of
maintaining and sustaining their families, women are having to migrate in
large numbers to seek viable means of employment. The ensuing result is a
continuing marginalisation of women, the feminisation of poverty, of
migration, and of cheap labour. In response, many states have enacted
restrictive immigration policies that have adversely affected migrant
women. Globalisation has serious consequences for women belonging,
particularly, to cultural communities marginalised by poverty, ethnicity,
and regional factors.

Women are structurally denied equal access to the formal and regulated
labour markets. They are generally relegated to the service sector, which
is currently expanding globally, such that women's work remains synonymous
with service work. Much of women's work in the service sector is informal,
undervalued, underpaid, unprotected, stigmatized and in some cases,

National, regional and international migration patterns reflect this labour
division with increasing numbers of migrant women responding to the
national and international demand for domestic workers, marriage partners,
sex and entertainment workers, and sweat shop workers.

The inequitable global structures divide certain economically disadvantaged
countries as 'sending' countries and those of the privileged,
industrialized world as 'recipient' countries. While Canada and the USA
may predominantly be categorized as countries of destination for women
migrating for work and/or marriage, the process of globalisation also has
affected marginalised women adversely in these countries. Thus Canada and
the USA are also countries of origin for out-migration and transit of
female labour, albeit to a much lesser degree than economically
disadvantaged countries.

Hierarchies within structures of citizenship as well as hierarchies of
preference as to who can get citizenship are constructed by the political
and economic facts of colonization and its legacy, the interests of
Multi-national corporations and governments, racism, class divisions and
sexism. Therefore, we need to develop strategies that dismantle these

'Trafficking' in women and labour migration of women must be understood in
the context of traditional female roles, structural disadvantages suffered
by women in the gendered labour market, and the world-wide feminisation of
labour migration on the one hand, and increasingly restrictive immigration
policies of recipient countries including Canada and the USA on the other.
Diminishing possibilities for legal labour migration in combination with
the demand for women's labour in the service sector to provide sexual,
domestic and care-giving services create a contradiction and a considerable
discrepancy between official policies of Canada and the USA, and the actual
demand for labour in the above mentioned sites of work in the service

 The acceptance and recognition of prostitution as work is to recognise and
validate the reality of women working as prostitutes. We must actively
fight against abuse, violence and coercion in prostitution in any context
in which these occur. The sex industry is a large and profitable industry
in the North American region. Not having their rights as workers
recognised, women in the sex industry see little profit and encounter risk
and abuse. Furthermore the conditions of sex workers are worsened if they
are from other countries, do not speak the language(s) of the country and
are of an undocumented immigration status.

Taking advantage of this discrepancy and gap created by official policies,
organised crime steps in. The devalued and unregulated character of women's
work in the service sector and sweat shops, coupled with inadequate or
absent labour legislation and standards governing these sites of employment
create the conditions for abusive recruitment practices and exploitative
conditions of work, extending from humiliating treatment to outright forced
labour and slavery like practices.

It needs to be underscored that the peculiarities determining women's work
and migrant women's work yield considerable financial gains for all
parties but the women themselves. Not only do 'trafficking' networks make
huge profits, but the remittances of women migrant workers form an
important source of foreign exchange for their home countries. It should
also be emphasized that the labour of migrant workers, sex workers,
domestic workers and sweat shop workers contributes significantly to the
economies of the destination or recipient countries. In fact, during this
current phase of globalisation, the labour of women and migrant workers
doing 'shadow work' in the informal service sector is crucial to sustain
economies of the economically privileged countries and maintain standards
of living at the current level.

Abuse of women through forced labour and slavery-like practices, whether
during recruitment and travel or on the work site, are violations of
women's basic human rights. Forced labour and slavery-like practices must
not be imposed even with the promise of future rights. In many cases the
human rights standards that exist have not been applied to the benefit of
women in the context of migration, in part because the paradigm has not
been sufficiently analysed for gender in some areas and there are gaps in
existing standards. The development of new or expanded standards must be
based on women's experiences. Human rights strategies should be based on
the recognition and inter-relations of all rights - economic, social,
cultural, civil and political. As well we need to recognise both
collective and individual rights within the human rights framework
regardless of citizenship or legal status.

The reality of most migrant women workers and marginalised women workers,
including sex workers, is that states do not protect their rights, and in
many cases have laws and practices that actively violate their rights. In
addition these women have been excluded from participation in decision
making on laws and policies in both countries of origin or departure, and
destination. States have the obligation to enact laws and organise
structures of government including criminal, immigration, asylum, labour
and family laws to ensure that women can use such laws and legal structures
to vindicate their rights. This access to justice must effectively redress
violations committed by the state as well as abuses by non-state actors.
In order to hold the state accountable, women must have the information and
power to become active participants in open and genuinely democratic
decision making.

It must be stated that the North American Regional Consultative Forum on
Trafficking in Women and this resulting document does not adequately
address the specific concerns of children who are sexually exploited or
forced into situations of forced labour or slavery like practices. It is
not the intention of the Forum participants to exclude the issues of this
extremely vulnerable group, rather, we acknowledge that we are focusing
specifically on the issues of adult women.

Recommendations addressed to Governments

1) Ratify the Slavery Convention of 1926, the 1956 Supplementary
Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions
and Practices Similar to Slavery, the ILO Convention on Forced Labour (No.
29), Abolition of Forced Labour Convention (No.105), On Freedom of
Association (No. 87), Protection of Wages (No. 95), Convention On the
Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their
Families, the Convention On the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
Against Women, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

2) Develop policies to eliminate all forms of discrimination, forced
labour and slavery-like practices to which domestic workers, sex workers,
mail-order brides, and migrant workers are subjected to.

3) Ensure the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of
women as persons, as workers and as migrants.

These rights include:

* Safe, just and equitable living and working conditions.

* Internationally recognized health and safety standards.

* Freedom to control working and living conditions as domestic
workers, as prostitutes, and as wives.

* Freedom of movement, speech and assembly.

* Freedom from fraud, abuse, violence, and coercion.

* Right to due compensation in case of violation of human rights
of women.

In order to ensure rights which are not included in the above, States need
to set up a commission which will focus specifically on the above mentioned
sectors of labour. These rights should include the following:

* Full independent legal status, regardless of marital status,
migrant status or occupation.

* Legal recognition of women's economic activity in all sectors of
the economy including the informal in accordance with non-discriminatory
labour standards which may have to be reviewed, revised or developed.

* Decriminalization of prostitution.

4) Guarantee the right of all workers, including the right of sex workers
and domestic workers to organise, form unions and bargain collectively.

5) Repeal repressive and discriminatory immigration and other policies visa
a vi housing, welfare, health and education.

6) Take measures to end abuse by police and immigration officials of women,
including taking bribes, blackmail, sexual and physical abuse and
harassment, forcible STD and HIV testing, and involuntary sterilization.

7) Adopt a Code of Conduct for Canada and the USA which guarantees basic
legal protection and possibilities for redress to victims of trafficking,
forced labour and slavery-like practices as defined .

        This Code of Conduct should be consistent with the Standard Minimum
Rules (proposed by GAATW) for the treatment of victims of trafficking to
better respect and protect their rights. These rules include:

* The right to freedom from prosecution or harassment by those in
positions of authority.

* Access to adequate, confidential and affordable health, social and
psychological care.

* Access to competent translators during all interactions with the

* Access to free legal assistance and legal representation during
criminal or other proceedings.

* Access to legal possibilities of compensation and redress.

* Provisions to enable women to press criminal charges and/or take
civil action against their violators, such as a temporary staying permit
during criminal and/or civil proceedings and adequate witness protection.

* Assistance to return to her home country if she wishes to do so.

* Legal rights to stay, regardless of witness status, if women do not
want or cannot return to their home country.

* Protection against reprisals both in countries of origin and
destination, from their violators or oppressive and/or discriminatory
measures from the authorities.

* Abolition of summary deportation.

* Encouragement, adequate financial resources and legal protection
for self-help organizations of the women affected, as well as for NGOs who
work in solidarity with them.

* Establish a system to monitor and regulate abusive employers,
domestic worker recruitment and placement agencies and mail-order bride

* Develop and enforce occupational and safety regulations and
labour codes to regulate work sites that are not currently covered by such
regulations. Enforce laws against domestic violence and sexual assault
when such abuse occurs in the context of marriage with the provision that
migrant women who report such abuse are not threatened with loss of
residency, immigration, or citizenship rights.

8) Accept as grounds for asylum gender-based persecution, including
persecution based on women's engagement in sex work.

9) Governments must ensure that comprehensive protections and remedies
are available to all migrant women, whether or not they are victims of
abusive recruitment and/or transportation practices, and/or forced labour
or slavery like practices.

10) Work together with grassroots organisations and NGOs, including
organizations of Aboriginal women, sex workers, domestic workers, and
immigrant/migrant women's groups to develop a comprehensive national
program to assist victims of abuse in the context of labour and migration
with legal assistance, health care, job training, shelter and financial
assistance if required. Adequate resources should be allocated to
implement this program. Aboriginal women, youth, domestic workers, sex
workers, migrant workers and immigrant women should be fully represented in
this process.

11) Sponsor human rights education in relevant languages and in accessibly
written language.

12) Recognize the contribution of migrant women workers' labour to the
economies of Canada and the United States and ensure commensurate

13) Diplomatic arms of governments should respond to the needs of women in
their countries who flee abusive situations, and provide resources and
information to protect their rights provide information

14) Consulates and Embassies of countries of destination should provide
information and resources to prospective women migrants about their rights,
employment situations, and avenues of recourse in cases of abuse.

15) Governments should allocate adequate funds to NGOs, grassroots and
community organizations to advocate for and serve the needs of migrant
women in countries of origin and destination. Governments should provide
NGOs with relevant statistics and data.

Recommendations addressed to grassroots and community based organizations
and NGOs:

1) Undertake action-research and employ research methodology which is
respectful of the women concerned, exchange information, and compile and
disseminate data on trafficking (as defined above), forced labour and
slavery-like practices and international migration of women. The objective
of such work would be to add to the knowledge base and support the work
being done to safeguard the human rights and interests of victims of

2) Undertake research on the functioning of the global economy, world
trade organizations, and the international financial institutions and the
persecution of women. Access should be made available to data on arrests,
police harassment and persecution by state and immigration authorities. It
was proposed that GAATW become the repository for this research.

3) Build alliances with organizations of domestic workers, sex workers,
migrant workers, and sweatshop workers as well as with other segments in

4) Work to recognize and organise women in all sectors of the economy
including the informal sector.

5) Interrelate work at global and local levels.

6) NGOs should expose and advocate against hypocritical and discriminatory
attitudes and actions of consulates and embassies toward women. They should
respond to the needs of women of their country who flee abusive situations
and to provide adequate resources for this.

7) Northern NGOs and grassroots and community based organizations should
recognize the issues faced by women in the south and engage in support
solidarity campaigns to ensure their human rights and to improve conditions
in their home countries.

8) Sensitivity of NGOs and grassroots and community-based organizations to
discrimination based on, among others, race, country of origin, gender
identity, class, sexuality, age, ability, and occupation.

9) Identify lawyers and legal advocates to provide pro bono services to women.

10) Engage in rights awareness activities in languages accessible and
relevant to women, including grassroots education and popular education for
and by women.

11) Use media and mass actions to expose abuses of women workers and press
governments to address these abuses.

12) Develop peer education, peer organizing, and support programs.

13) Use criminal and civil litigation and other actions against
exploitative agents, brokers, employers, State officials, husbands, and
partners to secure compensation for women.

14) Create solidarity funds for defense.

15) Use existing information technologies, where available and seek funds
to do so whenever necessary, to enhance information exchange and
networking, and to provide support to women who want to migrate for work.

16) Pressure governments to stop using illegal status as justification for
failure to prosecute abuses against women such as rape, violence,
debt-bondage, abusive employment practices.

17) Develop explicit strategies (e.g.., economic sanctions) to hold
destination states accountable for violations of human rights within their
national boundaries.

18) Identify legal and other strategies to address human rights abuses of

19) Expand human rights framework to include sexual autonomy and
self-determination, non-discriminatory collective and individual human
rights as a basic right of every human person.

20) Develop informed strategies that guard against repressive government

21) NGOs statement: see # 13 in govt. section above

22) NGO statement: see # 14 in govt. section above


1) Demand that the Canadian federal government remove the compulsory
live-in requirement and temporary status for foreign domestic workers and
permit foreign domestic workers to enter Canada with full landed immigrant
status. Demand that domestic worker organizations be involved in the
current and all future consultations over immigration policies including
domestic worker/live-in caregiver policies.

2) Write the Canadian government to implement negotiations with Aboriginal
peoples' organisations on the recommendations of the Royal Commission on
Aboriginal Peoples. Stress that Aboriginal women's organisations must have
an equal voice with other representative organisations of Aboriginal

3) Demand that North American governments not participate in APEC in light
of the rejection of APEC, NAFTA, GATT and WTO by marginalized peoples in
North America and the Third World.

4) Demand repeal of Section 213 of the Criminal Code, which makes
communication for the purposes of prostitution an offense, and call for the
release of women who are being held under this law.

5) Implement promises made for shelters and services for sex trade workers
as promised by the Liberal Redbook.

6) Regulation of the marriage-market industry, and prohibition of marriage
of minor mail-order brides, and men convicted of abuse.

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