CAIRO, Egypt – On World Day against Trafficking in Persons 2023, Better Work highlights several of the activities it carried out with partners in Egypt throughout the year to raise awareness on human trafficking in accordance with this year’s theme “Reach every victim of trafficking, leave no one behind.”
Human trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of people through force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for profit. Men, women and children of all ages and from all backgrounds can become victims of this crime, which occurs globally.
According to the report Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour and Forced Marriage, Walk Free– jointly produced by the ILO and International Organization for Migration (IOM)– over 27 million people are currently finding themselves in situations of forced labour. This translates into 3.5 people for every thousand globally. Almost 12 million of them are women and girls, while over three million are children.
The traffickers often use violence or fraudulent employment agencies and fake promises of education and job opportunities to trick and coerce their victims.
To tackle this issue, the ILO – through the Better Work programme, the Accelerating action for the elimination of child labour in supply chains in Africa (ACCEL AFRICA), the Combating Human Trafficking in Egypt project, and the National Coordinating Committee for Combating and Preventing Illegal Migration and Trafficking in Persons (NCCPIM & TIP) in Egypt – ran two workshops in Cairo and Alexandria in late May and early June.
These initiatives focused on ways to combat human trafficking by raising awareness among businesses about the risks of forced labour in in the production, services, and operations linked to their activities, as well as on the elimination of child labour across Africa’s supply chains. The workshops were funded by the United States Department of State and The Kingdom of the Netherlands.
These initiatives are in tune with the 2018-2025 National Action Plan for Combating the Worst Forms of Child Labour and Supporting Family in Egypt, and the 2022-2026 Third National Strategy on Combating and Preventing Trafficking in Persons.
Employers’ representatives, including members of the Federation of Egyptian Industries, were the main participants in the workshops. During the sessions, attendees had the chance to discuss and learn about the nature of human trafficking in the workplace, businesses’ role in tackling child labour, and the different forms of forced labour and labour exploitation.
H.E. Ambassador Naela Gabr, Chairperson of NCCPIM & TIP, opened the sessions. She highlighted the government’s efforts in combatting human trafficking, the pivotal role played by employers in eliminating and preventing human trafficking in the workplace, and the importance of having protection and supporting measures in place for the victims.
“Employers play a great role in creating job opportunities and providing safe working environment for decent work,” she said. “I encourage the workshops participants to continue their efforts in this direction, by combating illegal migration, smuggling of migrants and trafficking in persons.”
Throughout the workshops, attendees were encouraged to strengthen their companies’ respective code of conduct concerning human trafficking to guarantee a safe environment where no practices might fall under this category.
“These workshops mark a major step in combating human trafficking and the worst forms of child labour,” said Eric Oechslin, ILO Cairo Director, Decent Work Team and Country Office.
According to the Egyptian Labour Law, 15 is the legal minimum age for employment. Workers under the age of 18 are considered juvenile and can be employed, but only under specific conditions.
“The attendance of employers’ representatives is a key element in this fight. It also reflects the businesses’ determination and commitment to addressing the issue in line with the Egyptian government and the ILO efforts towards eradicating human trafficking,” Oechslin said.
According to the latest global estimates, 152 million children are engaged in child labour and 25 million adults and children are in forced labour, including in global supply chains.
The garment and textile industries are no exception, with the sector being marred by forced labour concerns globally.
“Business can be a very influential factor in eliminating human trafficking by becoming an active part of the dialogue, developing awareness and understanding the risks associated with our involvement in such cases,” said attendee Baher Bakery, Country Human Resources Manager at Better Work-registered garment factories Vogue Velocity and Velocity Apparelz Co. “Understanding how to deal with these situations, whom to contact and ways to report faulty recruitment agencies is a precious information in this fight.”
Other attendees stressed the importance of joint efforts from the different elements of the global and local supply chain to prevent and eradicate human trafficking and its consequences in the world of work.
Ahmed El Sheribny, Compliance Manager at Better Work-registered Trans Africa Garment Industry, said that determining whether partner brands had well-established anti-trafficking policies in place was an essential element to ensure a healthy supply chain.
Among the core efforts in addressing human trafficking, policies and mechanisms that remedy damages for the victims occupy a special space. They are instrumental for the victims’ recovery, reinstatement of their rights, and prevention of their re-victimization.
The adoption of the ILO Protocol supplementing the widely-ratified Forced Labour Convention has added weight to international efforts to improve access to remedies for victims of trafficking, regardless of their presence or legal status in the country where they were exploited.
Remedy procedures for victims of human trafficking are already present in several of the Better Work partner factories in the country.
“Our company has a grievance officer with a strong psychological background in charge of these cases,” said Mohamed Taha, Country Compliance Manager with Vogue Velocity and Velocity Apparelz Co. The company’s officer has recently supported the successful rehabilitation and reintegration in the workplace of several Ethiopian employees who relocated to Egypt after fleeing the war in their country.
“Survivors of human trafficking and other traumatic experiences may prefer not to share or open up about what they had been exposed to,” said Mohamed Saleh, Compliance Manager at Lotus Garment. “Making sure they land a job in a safe environment that respects their rights is what all companies should strive for to help them overcome their silent battles.”