Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Southern perspectives on development: the missing link in discussions on modern slavery

by Priya Deshingkar


Isn’t it strange that so few people who are assumed to be ‘modern slaves’ see themselves as such?


Eliminating modern slavery, trafficking, and other forms of extreme exploitation is a declared priority of the current UK government. Its strategy to do so is inextricably linked to Western views and policies on migration, and, given its leading role in high-level consultations on a ‘global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration’, as well as in discussions around the UN’s sustainable development goals, it is well positioned to influence the way in which migration is discussed in these important forums.

This has come at a time when irregular migration has become especially visible and politically sensitive. This has resulted in an unhelpful bundling together and criminalisation of different kinds of migration, with calls for border control, police, and immigration to jointly defeat, as Theresa May puts it, “this vile and systematic international business model at its source and in transit”. It is only by removing labour market intermediaries – it is argued – that they can be saved from the slavers, traffickers, and unscrupulous employers intent on exploiting them.

Such arguments are made with very little evidence that migrants wish to be ‘saved’ in such a manner, or indeed that they view this as a form of ‘saving’ at all. On the contrary, there is substantial evidence to suggest that such policies have the unintended effect of pushing most workers into the least visible end of manufacturing, trade and services where legal protection is hard to deliver. The global policy community is thus trying to find a solution to ‘modern slavery’ without recognising that border controls, bad governance, and unwelcoming cities are all contributing factors to exploitation in the first place.

Be that as it may, the time is ripe to feed in ideas, evidence and opinions in the hope that win-win arrangements can be found for all. For those working on migration and poverty, SDG 8.7 – which aims to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking – is of enormous significance, as it constitutes an important entry point for influencing the direction of current discussions. There have been calls for more evidence, to reduce the costs of migration, and to regulate or eliminate middlemen who are seen as the perpetrators of violence and exploitation. What is missing from these calls, however, is any suggestion that we should begin speaking with and coordinating our responses with the migrants themselves.

The need for more evidence


There can be no doubt that we need more data and information because so much of the discussion is based on assumptions, moral panics, and normative judgements rather than solid evidence. Part of the reason for the lack of data is that migrants in irregular situations are scared to self-report for fear of deportation or, in the case of internal migrants, businesses and brokers keep them hidden to avoid complying with labour laws. Innovative data collection methods need to be designed to open the ‘black box’ of exploitative labour arrangements and the relationships that underpin them, in order for policy makers to better understand what happens before migration, who enters which kind of work, how, and why.

Three very diverse cases drawn from the research we have conducted in the Migrating out of Poverty project illustrate why we need a deeper understanding of these dynamics. These include the relationships that exist within households between genders and generations, as well as cultural norms dictating gender roles and responsibilities at different life stages.

The first example is an adolescent girl in an orthodox family in Ethiopia who is faced with the choice of marrying someone much older than herself or running away and trying her luck in the city so she might make something of her life. She leaves without her parents’ permission and approaches a broker who specialises in helping girls in her situation to find work in the city. She ends up as a domestic maid, working for a pittance and being on call all day, but her employer allows her to attend night school.

By contrast, young unmarried teenagers in Nepal migrate for construction work through agents locally known as “Naike” where the migration is socially accepted and arranged by relatives. They often work for little or no money, accepting food and accommodation as remuneration because the main purpose of their migration is to experience city life, become smarter, and behave in status-enhancing ways as compared to their peers in the village.

A third example is from Bangladesh, where men migrate to the Gulf states or Singapore to work in construction. To access these labour markets, they often pay brokers large sums of money acquired by borrowing from family networks or selling assets. They migrate with long-term ambitions of improving their material and social standard of living, but first they must often face months or even years of uncertainty which pushes them and their families into situations of vulnerability. Those who find work may spend much longer repaying their loans than they had originally planned.

All of these cases contain elements of the types of exploitation that are commonly referred to as ‘modern slavery’; working for little or no pay, being on almost permanent call, and incurring large debts to be paid off through work. But conversations with these migrants show that they do not think of themselves as slaves, and most have a clear sense of where they have come from and where they want to go. The early years are usually the toughest, especially for those without the support of extended social networks. Some may never succeed due to shocks such as injury or ill health. But over time most will begin to save, to send remittances, or to build up enough reserves to attempt a further move. Although many of them will not achieve their highest ambitions, they may decide that wherever they have ended up is nonetheless better than going back home.

In each case, a person’s individual circumstances, experiences, and aspirations, as well as how they use migration to achieve their goals, are very different. We need more evidence on the outcomes of such migration in the longer term. Rather than assuming that everyone in such work will end up poorer or in a worse situation than before, we need concrete evidence on change over time. There is also a far more fundamental question that needs to be asked: how do individuals in the global south – whether they migrate or not – conceive of ‘development’, and what role do they see for migration in achieving it?


Visions of development and migration as a route to development


The present discourse on slavery, trafficking, and other forms of exploitative work, as well as on migration, is underpinned by Western and neoliberal ideas related to freedom and development. These tell us that migrants should be free to choose their occupation, to be able to engage in it without paying, and that the conditions in which they work should be decent. The idea that someone would willingly pay a broker a lot of money for the chance to migrate and work under unfree conditions, while pursuing and hopefully fulfilling their long-term goals, seems to not make sense in such a paradigm.

Recruitment fees have recently come into focus as a primary mechanism through which migrants end up in debt that is impossible to repay. We assume that those trapped in debt are using it mainly to keep body and soul together, and they migrate year after year just for survival. The Indian construction sector is commonly held up as an example of this phenomenon, an area where workers are widely analysed to be on a path to further impoverishment due to their perpetual indebtedness to brokers.

When we speak to construction workers, however, it becomes quickly obvious that they view their own development and the pathways to it rather differently. Interviews with migrant construction workers in Telangana show that they view brokers as an important source of credit and better than traditional moneylenders, who humiliate them. For them, taking out and paying off debt through work allows them to spend on marriages above their social status, to invest in housing and education, and to potentially raise their standing or standard of living in the longer term.

The lesson here is that listening to the voices of migrants and understanding why they enter certain forms of work is critical to understanding where interventions should be made and where they shouldn’t. It is important to hear first-hand what migrants have to say about their own experiences, rather than only relying on civil society organisations that claim to represent workers or advocate on their behalf. These groups are often staffed by educated, urban people who may have world views more closely resembling those of the international development community than those of rural, disadvantaged workers. Without a deeper understanding of these complexities, we run the risk of putting up barriers to forms of work that may have real potential for development for people who otherwise have very limited opportunities for effecting real change in their lives.

This blog was originally published on Open Democracy, 18 October 2017. 


Priya Deshingkar is Research Director of the DFID-funded Migrating out of Poverty Research Programme Consortium; principal investigator for the ‘Capitalising human mobility for poverty alleviation and inclusive development in Myanmar (CHIME)’ project; and senior research fellow at the School of Global Studies, at the University of Sussex. She has decades of fieldwork experience in Asia as well as Sub-Saharan Africa. Her research focuses on migration and poverty, especially with regard to precarious occupations, migration, labour rights and agency.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Reflections on the UNU-WIDER development conference in Accra, Ghana, October 2017

by Eva-Maria Egger


Last week around 200 migration researchers and representatives of donor agencies and international organisations discussed how research and policy will shape migration over the next decades. The gathering was organised by the United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER) in partnership with the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) and held in the University of Ghana at Legon, Accra.
 
The Vice President of Ghana, Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, welcomed the participants in person emphasising the relevance of migration research for policy makers in developing countries as well as richer economies. How challenging it can be to make migration policies was documented in the keynote speech by Ingrid Palmary from the African Centre for Migration Studies (ACMS), a Migrating out of Poverty partner. She presented the results of Migrating out of Poverty research in Bangladesh, Singapore and South Africa on "How unpopular policies are made" showcasing the challenges that advocacy groups face to form successful coalitions when it comes to laws that improve immigrants' situations. Such policies often come at economic costs so they can be politically difficult to defend. The research pointed at the important interaction between local and global processes/actors and exposed the mostly passive consumption of evidence by policy makers.

Throughout the conference, the question of policy implications and challenges continued to arise. The conference addressed various aspects of migration and mobility through the lenses of economists, sociologists, historians, anthropologists, political scientists and lawyers. The topics comprised forced migration, health and education impacts of migration, social cohesion, migration governance, integration, determinants of migration, environmental causes of migration, impacts of displacement on hosting communities, and remittances. 

Migrating out of Poverty was represented not only in the keynote speech, but also in two parallel sessions. Julie Litchfield from the University of Sussex presented research on gender differences in remittance sending behaviour in Zimbabwe. The results showed that once migrant and household characteristics are controlled for, there is no gender difference in the incidence nor value of remittances sent, but women send relatively larger shares of goods. Questions were raised that could explain these differences and the author suggested to further investigate the use of remittances, for example, by looking at expenditure share of various goods. This could reveal, for example, whether women might remit goods to directly benefit a specific person in the household such as a child left behind. 

I also presented some Migrating out of Poverty research, co-authored with Julie Litchfield, which described the repeated nature of migration within rural households in Ghana and estimates the impact of sending additional migrants on household welfare. We do not find any effect of further engagement in migration on households' asset wealth. The data suggests that households with new migrants use their savings to finance migration so that they might not be able to further invest in other assets. On the other hand, migration costs for new migrants are lower than those of first-time or previous migrants. This raised the question whether households might be learning from their previous migration experience.

Both studies were well received due to their detailed description of the characteristics of migrants, their households and remittance patterns. This drew the attention to the household surveys conducted by Migrating out of Poverty in both countries reflecting an important contribution to the goal to close the migration data gap

Another example of policy-relevant research was the presentation by Eva Dick and Benjamin Schraven of the German Development Institute (DIE) based on a government funded research aiming to better understand migration governance in source countries. They develop a comparative framework to analyse migration governance in the ECOWAS and IGAD region that reflects on the position of migration within the institutional identity, structures specifically addressing migration, the normative reasoning behind migration governance, and finally how this is transmitted into written policies and actually implemented. The discussion revealed the lack of integration regarding mobility within these two regions and a lack of commitment to implement policies such as freedom of movement due to priority of national interest.

A special session on the root causes of migration with two presentations by the United Nations' agricultural organizations, FAO and IFAD, looked for evidence of the relationship between rural development and migration. These institutions are interested in the extent that agricultural development might encourage or deter migration from rural areas in developing countries. Migration out of rural areas is high in many of the countries that are agriculture dependent and the question arises to what extent this is part of the structural transformation process and as such could be shaped to result in inclusive economic growth or whether new patterns are emerging. These new patterns include those of the youth bulge in many African countries turning away from agriculture and seeking opportunities in cities or abroad and some destinations failing to offer these opportunities. Especially for the African region another challenge is posed by a structural transformation process with a lack of more productive jobs in the non-farm agricultural or service sector due to increased globalisation pressures.

The second keynote speech by Professor Hillel Rapoport from the Paris School of Economics summarised existing evidence on the impacts of diaspora or international migration on origin countries through economic integration (via trade, financial flows, innovation) or cultural integration (political views, cultural convergence). Evidence shows that migration increases bilateral trade as a larger diaspora reduces transaction costs and raises demand for goods from the country of origin. While there is no evidence on this, a larger diaspora could even influence trade agreements by creating the critical demand. Migration leads to an even larger increase in financial flows than goods trade, especially for high-skilled migration. Also, innovation is positively related to international migration. However, there is no evidence specifically for the innovation in the agricultural sector and whether financial flows reach this sector. Professor Rapoport concluded to "let their people come" because the evidence shows an overall positive effect of international migration for development in origin countries and even on national policies of receiving countries. These impacts are expected to be even higher for South-South migration because there transaction costs etc. are usually higher.

Finally, the conference closed with reflections on the future research and policy agenda. A major goal for research is to produce more evidence on the causes and consequences of migration that can help to inform policy makers. This implies more data collection with a focus on migration, in source regions as well as following the migrants along their way and over time. To finance such costly surveys, policy makers have to be convinced of their potential to improve our knowledge. At the same time researchers have to be more creative in exploiting existing data to produce evidence as the resource mobilisation for new data is likely to be slow and challenging. New forms of research engagement with policy organisations are evolving, such as rapid reaction research immediately when and where events occur. One example is a survey collected at the arrival of migrants across the Mediterranean Sea run by the IOM at arrival points. 

Additional topics that should gain more attention by researchers and policy makers alike were raised. Among them were those of irregular migration and drivers to participate in it despite the risks, impacts of return migration, patterns of labour demand in destination countries to create channels of legal migration, net-benefits of migration, the role of information about migration to make it safer, financial product innovation that can improve the use of remittances, as well as the impact on families left-behind and possible need for support policies in origins. 

Covering a broad spectrum of migration-related topics, this conference provided the platform to share existing knowledge and to identify remaining knowledge gaps. These need to be closed to offer policy makers better understanding of how to positively shape mobility around the world. 

All presentation slides, papers and video recordings of the conference can be found online


Eva-Maria Egger worked for Migrating out of Poverty while completing her PhD at the University of Sussex. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Migrating out of Poverty, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, nor the UK’s Department for International Development.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Migrating out of Poverty at the UNU WIDER development conference

By Emmanuel Quarshie


The United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER) in collaboration with the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) organized a development conference on migration and mobility on 5-6 October 2017 in Accra, Ghana. The theme of the conference was ‘Migration and mobility - new frontiers for research and policy’. In this blog I will discuss some of the main themes running through the conference and the Migrating out of Poverty contributions.

The issues of migration and mobility have become very topical and find their place at the heart of high-level global economic development debates. They are a feature of the Sustainable Development Goals due to the range of opportunities and challenges they pose globally. For this reason the conference sought to bring together a variety of disciplines ‘to inform policy-relevant debate and action’.

The conference was well attended by a wide range of researchers and scholars in the fields of migration, development economics and anthropology, among others. Favourably, Migrating out of Poverty team members from the United Kingdom, South Africa and Ghana were present. His Excellency, the Vice-President of Ghana, Mahamudu Bawumia gave the opening speech after a warm welcome address by Finn Tarp, Director of UNU-WIDER, and Ernest Aryeetey, Secretary General of ARUA.

The first keynote lecture was delivered by Ingrid Palmary, professor and academic director of the African Centre for Migration & Society at Wits University, South Africa. In her lecture, ‘How unpopular policies are made’, she discussed the following six key factors impacting on policy:

  • The nature of the policy being made
  • Who is the policy for?
  • Who are the role players?
  • Which positions have been taken? i.e. Is it from the moral/ethical or legal/human-right point of view?
  • Contestations over knowledge and
  • The political environment.

In her conclusion, she highlighted the fact that there is the need to attend to the relationship between global and local processes in policy formulation in order to avoid political rhetoric.


Professor Mariama Awumbila and Benjamin Schraven served as conveners for the parallel session on ‘Migration within Africa: defining the governance challenge’. A series of discussions went on after the three presentations, where focus was on the challenges of regional migration, economic integration and marriage migration. Having a keen interest in the presentation on ‘Challenges to regional migration and economic integration in West Africa: the case of Ghana and Nigeria’ I asked the presenter, Stephen Adaawen, if he could clearly explain the major problem impeding the ECOWAS Free Movement Protocol implementation, and if one of the plausible reasons was the conflict that exists between country-specific policies and ECOWAS protocol? He responded that the major challenge hampering the observation of the protocol for nationals from other member states was political will.  Countries within the community of the West Africa states looked to prioritize their citizens over citizens of other ECOWAS countries. Prof Awumbila suggested to improve mobility there was a need for ECOWAS to refine and define some key policies on the acquisition of work permits, residence permits and other such permits, to take into account those nationals residing outside their state that pass the 90 days of allowed stay in the another ECOWAS country. She also added that most of these issues emanate from the paucity in data on job categorisation and a lack of universality in school certificates among member countries.

During an afternoon session which was chaired by Ingrid Palmary, Julie Litchfield presented on
‘Migrant remittances and gender in Zimbabwe’. The presentation shed more light on in-kind remittances, which she stated, are more often sent by female migrants. It was put across, that in order to clearly understand the gendered dynamics of remitting and the overarching motivation to remit, these types of remittances must be acknowledged and explored. She argued that a focus on cash remittances ignores the larger volume of remittances sent by both men and women, but particularly undervalues the contribution of women to rural and household economies and this may have implications for policy around remittances. Looking solely at monetary remittances creates an incomplete picture.  Women are as likely as men to send remittances home and there is no difference in the value of what they send.

Eva-Maria Egger presented on ‘The nature and impact of repeated migration within households in rural Ghana’. The research sought to explore whether new migrants differ from the previous migrants of the same household and how having a new migrant affects the welfare of households who had already engaged in migration. She concluded with these four points:

  • There are repeated migration patterns and different motivations for migration within the same household
  • ‘New’ migrants are often from the younger generation, move more for educational reasons and because of household dynamics. They pay less for their move, remit rarely and when remitting, send smaller amounts
  • There was no impact of having a new migrant on the households of those left-behind who had already engaged in migration. Lower costs and the use of savings could explain this result
  • More longitudinal data and more outcome measures are needed for conclusive analysis

The last session of the conference highlighted an issue that many of us are grappling with. How can research affect policy? This invited a lot of views which highlighted the gap between research and policy; the role of politics in the implementation of key policies; the lack of proper liaison between researchers and policy makers; and the conflicting interests among these various actors. All places where more research can and should be done.


Emmanuel Quarshie is the Communications and Research Uptake officer for Migrating out of Poverty at the Centre for Migration Studies in Ghana

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

We’re attending the ‘Migration and mobility – new frontiers for research and policy’ conference in Ghana

On the 5-6 October delegates from around the world will be gathering in Accra, Ghana for the ‘Migration and mobility – new frontiers for research and policy’ conference hosted by UNU WIDER and the African Research Universities Alliance. The organisers have brought together researchers and policy makers to share new knowledge on migration within the Africa region. They explain:

“Migration and mobility are key facets of our increasingly globalized world, posing challenges but also offering opportunities. For migrants, this may include economic and social mobility, as well as improved physical security and an escape from conflict, violence and persecution. While the impact of migration on both host and sending countries is a topic of considerable contemporary political debate, there is also ample research showing the benefits in terms of labour market outcomes, economic growth, as well as diversity and innovation.”

Migrating out of Poverty is delighted that team members from South Africa, Ghana and the UK will be attending the conference.

On Thursday 5 October:
  • From 09.00-10.30, Ingrid Palmary will provide a keynote on ‘Global and local influences on policy making: An example of the South African anti-trafficking legislation’. She will discuss how global influences shaped the development of South Africa’s anti-trafficking legislation (Prevention and Combatting of Trafficking in Persons Act no. 26715, 2013). She has mapped these influences in terms of how they shaped the passing of the Act as well as the form that it took. In her address she will give attention to the case of migration policy-making which has taken place amidst complex and unequal global relationships.
  • From 10.45-12.30 (Parallel 1.4), Mariama Awumbila will chair the session on ‘Migration within Africa: defining the governance challenge.’
  • From 14.00-15.45 (Parallel 2.3), Ingrid Palmary will chair the session on ‘Gender.’ Julie Litchfield will present work from the counterfactuals study in Zimbabwe, ‘Migrant remittances and gender in Zimbabwe.’ This paper examines remittance sending behaviour of Zimbabwean migrants, both internal and international, exploring the nature of remittances and how remittance behaviour responds to the characteristics of the receiving family. Particular emphasis is placed on exploring gender differences in motivations to remit. The analysis draws on primary data collected by the authors in Zimbabwe in 2015 from a sample of 1200 households. 
  • From 16.15-18.00 (Parallel 3.2), Eva-Maria Egger will present work from the counterfactuals study in Ghana, ‘Migration experience, the migration decision and its impact on household welfare: new evidence from rural Ghana.’ In this paper, she explores repeated migration within a household and consequent welfare outcomes. The paper provides evidence that households often have more than one migrant member and that they have different characteristics depending on who moved first. New migrants are more likely to be from a younger generation, they face lower migration costs, and only few of them remit. She finds no effect of sending a new migrant on the change in the asset index. The different nature of migration of new migrants implies neither an economic gain for the household nor a loss. The reason for the former is that the migrants remit less or not at all and the reason for the latter is that migration becomes less costly with prior experience. 

Do come along to our sessions and meet the team.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

My PhD odyssey with Migrating out of Poverty

By Jon Sward,




In August, after five years of hard work, my PhD odyssey – which included a studentship with Migrating out of Poverty – came to a happy conclusion when I submitted the corrections to my thesis, following my viva voce exam in February.

When I started my PhD journey, I knew that I wanted to focus on the relationship between migration, poverty reduction, and the environment at migration destinations in low-income contexts. This was in October 2012, and I had spent a good chunk of the past half-year taking part in follow-up activities with key policy stakeholders in relation to the Foresight Report on Migration and Global Environmental Change. The report provided an overview of the state-of-science on climate migration, drawing on 70 working papers from scholars around the globe. Among the key findings of the report was that in future decades people were likely to be in increasingly moving into areas that are affected by dramatic environmental changes, and yet the nascent body of research evidence at the time on the ‘climate-migration nexus’ was mainly preoccupied with how environmental factors contributed to out-migration in migration ‘origin areas’.

I was interested in looking at how things were panning out for migrants at other end of the migratory chain, and how environmental change was part of this equation. These rather vague origins eventually led me to alight on internal migration to rural agricultural areas in Ghana’s Brong Ahafo region. One of my supervisors, Prof Dominic Kniveton, suggested I consider using ‘complex adaptive systems’ (CAS) theory as a way to frame my research – and I’m glad I did as this framework helped my re-think the ways I saw migration and climate relations, and led me to a set of questions I probably would not have encountered otherwise. CAS theory is based on the notion that human systems and the environment are co-evolving, and that the actions of agents underlie larger patterns and processes. Rather than staying in equilibrium, however, human and environmental relations are continuously being re-formed through feedback processes and non-linear relations. CAS theory invites a thorough analysis of the positioning of social actors within wider structures, and an understanding of the ongoing dialogue between these social actors and the environment.  

As part of my PhD, I conducted qualitative research with three communities in Brong Ahafo, which were mainly comprised of migrant farmers from Northern Ghana. CAS theory gave me a framework to explore the relationships between in-migration, changing land tenure norms under which farmers were acquiring land, and the impact of environmental change (especially rainfall variability and bushfires) on these migrants’ livelihoods. Their  livelihoods were embedded in larger agricultural supply chains that link rural Ghana to global markets, while also being mediated by varying social, monetary and other types of capital on the local level and weather patterns which migrants claimed were becoming increasingly erratic.

I found highly differentiated livelihoods among my interview participants across the three sites. This suggested that those who had arrived in the region when land tenure norms were comparatively good, or who had significant social capital within these ‘stranger’ communities, had sometimes been highly successful since migrating to Brong Ahafo. However, many of their migrant counterparts were – as they put it – ‘farming at a loss’, and were struggling to eke out a living through tenant farming.

One of the things that struck me about the tenant farmers I worked with as part of my PhD research was how invisible they were at the level of national policy, to say nothing of international donors’ agendas. Despite the repeated refrain that development policy should help ‘the poorest’, often those who are truly at the margins are left unheard. In a round-about way, these insights led me to my new post-PhD line of work, which while building on my focus on environmental change, doesn’t have a migration element, at least for now. In August, I started a new job at the Bretton Woods Project, a World Bank and IMF watchdog based in London. As the Environment Project Manager, I am developing a new environmental advocacy focus that will build on the Bretton Woods Project’s historical focus on monitoring the Bank’s role in climate finance and investing in energy infrastructure projects in developing countries. We are entering a pivotal global moment in terms of efforts to deal with the existential threat that anthropogenic climate change poses. Although the Bank has been quick to identify the problem of climate change – probably shouting the loudest about it amongst multilateral development banks – change on its operational side has not been swift, and between 2008-2015 it poured some $25 billion into investment in fossil fuels according to Oil Change International.

Like all big institutions, adapting to climate change for the World Bank will be painful but necessary if it wants to carry out its mission of poverty reduction that will reach the poorest, who are often most at risk of climate change’s impacts. Too often, the solutions to these problems have been linear, technical solutions – we’re entering a tough new world, and we need to understand the complexities that underpin it.