Trapped and Trafficked—Fishers Tell of Forced Labor Horror

Active Citizens, Africa, Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Human Trafficking, Humanitarian Emergencies, Labour, Migration & Refugees, TerraViva United Nations

Human Trafficking

Workers take a break after unloading fish from the Sor Somboon 19 fishing vessel. Initial screenings conducted by Greenpeace revealed that the crew of this Thai trawler met internationally accepted definitions of forced labour. Credit: Greenpeace

Workers take a break after unloading fish from the Sor Somboon 19 fishing vessel. Initial screenings conducted by Greenpeace revealed that the crew of this Thai trawler met internationally accepted definitions of forced labour. Credit: Greenpeace

BRATISLAVA, Jan 19 2024 (IPS) – “The thing is that when you come from an African country, they know that you’re basically trapped,” says Noel Adabblah.

“You have the wrong documents; you can’t go home because you’ve already borrowed money there to get here, and you won’t risk losing what work you have, no matter how bad, because of that. They know all the tricks.” 

The 36-year-old is speaking from Dublin, where he has managed to make a new life for himself after becoming a victim of what recent reports have shown to be widespread and growing forced labour in fishing fleets across the globe.

Adabblah, from Tema in Ghana, and three friends signed up with a recruitment agency back home to work as fishers on boats in the UK. They paid the equivalent of 1,200 EUR to be placed in jobs and were given letters of invitation and guarantees by their new employers, who said they would be met in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and who agreed to take care of all their documents and visas. Their employment contracts stated the men would be paid 1,000 GBP per month and employed for 12 months, with an option to reduce or extend that by three months upon mutual consent.

But when they arrived in January 2018, they were taken to Dublin and later split up. In the following months, they were taken to do various jobs at different ports in Ireland, sometimes late at night with no idea where they were going.

“We thought we were going there to sail and fish, but when we got there, we saw the boats were not ready; they were in poor condition, and we couldn’t fish, so the owner of the boats got us to do other jobs instead,” Adabblah tells IPS.

Cambodian fishermen from the fishing vessel Sor Somboon 19 recovers from beriberi at Ranong Hospital. The crew met internationally accepted definitions of victims of forced labour. Thai government investigations determined that the hospitalizations and deaths from the beriberi outbreak aboard Sor Somboon 19 were directly caused by a business model based on transshipment at sea. Credit: Greenpeace

A Cambodian fisher from the fishing vessel Sor Somboon 19 recovers from beriberi at Ranong Hospital. The crew met internationally accepted definitions of victims of forced labour. Credit: Greenpeace

“But after a few months, we said this is not what we came here to do. We had an argument over pay—he said he had no boats to fish with and wanted to lay us off, told us to go home. But we said no, that we had a 12-month contract we had signed for. He said he wouldn’t pay us, but could try to get us another job with someone else, but we said we couldn’t do that because the visas we had only applied to working for him. He told us if we didn’t like it, we could go home.”

It is at this point that many victims of forced labour often simply accept their fate and either go home or do whatever their employer wants. But Adabblah and his friends were determined to see the terms of their contract met, and they contacted the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF).

However, their problems deepened as they discovered they did not have the right documents for their work.

“We had no idea of the difference between Ireland and the UK. We thought the papers were OK. But when we went to the ITF, we realized they weren’t,” explains Adabblah.

At that point, the Irish police were obliged to open an investigation into the case.

Adabblah, who stayed in Ireland and has since managed to find work in the construction industry, says he heard nothing about the case until last year. “I heard that the police had said there was not enough evidence to pursue a conviction,” he says. Forced labour does not exist as an offense on the Irish statute books, so such cases are investigated under human trafficking legislation.

Regardless of the lack of a conviction in his case, he is clear that what he and his friends experienced was forced labour.

“They treated us badly. We worked 20-hour shifts some days. Once, when I was ill and couldn’t go on the boat, they said that if I couldn’t do the job, I could go home. They say stuff like that to threaten you,” he says.

Burmese fishermen in temporary shelter in Ambon port, Indonesia. Hundreds of trafficked workers are waiting to be sent back home, with many facing an uncertain future. The forced labour and trafficking survivors interviewed by Greenpeace Southeast Asia detailed beatings and food deprivation for anyone who tried to escape. The tuna fishermen on their vessels were forced to work 20-22 hour days for little to no pay, often deprived of basic necessities like showers.

Burmese fishers in temporary shelter in Ambon Port, Indonesia. Hundreds of trafficked workers are waiting to be sent back home, with many facing an uncertain future. The forced labour and trafficking survivors interviewed by Greenpeace Southeast Asia detailed beatings and food deprivation for anyone who tried to escape. The tuna fishermen on their vessels were forced to work 20–22 hours a day for little to no pay, often deprived of basic necessities like showers. Credit: Greenpeace

A commercial shrimp trawler is pursued by three Sea Lions near San Felipe. Shrimp trawlers, often entering into marine reserves illegally, pose a great threat to the marine environment at the northern end of the Gulf of California, due to the variety of marine wildlife, including Sea Lions that get caught in their bottom-trawling nets. The Greenpeace vessel 'MY Esperanza' is currently in Mexico to highlight the threats to the 'world's aquarium' from over-fishing, destructive tourism development, pollution and marine habitat loss.

A commercial shrimp trawler is pursued by three Sea Lions near San Felipe.
Shrimp trawlers, often entering into marine reserves illegally, pose a great threat to the marine environment at the northern end of the Gulf of California, due to the variety of marine wildlife, including Sea Lions, that get caught in their bottom-trawling nets. Credit: Greenpeace

Adabblah’s experience is far from unique among workers in the world’s fishing fleets. A recent report by the Financial Transparency Coalition, an international grouping of NGOs, said that more than 128,000 fishers were trapped in forced labour aboard fishing vessels in 2021. Its authors say there is a “human rights crisis” of forced labour aboard commercial fishing vessels, leading to horrific abuses and even deaths.

They point out that many of these victims of forced labour are from the global South, something that the people behind these crimes use to their advantage, experts say.

Michael O’Brien of the ITF’s Fisheries Section told IPS: “Those employing vulnerable migrants in forced labour scenarios rely upon the vulnerability of the victim, the potential lack of legal status of the victim in the country where they are working, and the victim’s reliance on an income that is unavailable to them in their country of origin.”

Mariama Thiam, an investigative journalist in Senegal who did research for the Financial Transparency Coalition report, said fishers often do not know what they are signing up for.

“Usually there is a standard contract that the fisher signs, and often they sign it without understanding it fully,” she told IPS.  “Most Senegalese fishermen have a low level of education. The contract is checked by the national fishing agency, which sees it, says it looks okay, approves it, and the fishers then go, but the fishers don’t understand what’s in it.”

Then, once they have started work, the men are so desperate to keep their jobs that they will put up with whatever conditions they have to.

“All the fishers I have spoken to say they have had no choice but to do the work because they cannot afford to lose their jobs—their families rely on them. Some of them were beaten or did not have any days off; captains systematically confiscate all their passports when they go on board—the captains say that if the fishermen have their passports, some will go on shore when they are in Europe and stay on there, migrating illegally,” she said.

“In the minds of Senegalese fishermen, their priority is salary. They can tolerate human rights abuses and forced labour if they get their salary,” Thiam added.

Adabblah agrees, adding though that this allows the criminals behind the forced labour to continue their abuses.

“The thing is that a lot of people are afraid to speak up because of where they are from, and they end up being too scared to say anything even if they are really badly treated. There are lots of people who are in the same situation as I was or experiencing much worse, but if no one speaks up, how can [criminals] be identified?” he says.

Experts on the issue say the owners of vessels where forced labour is alleged to have occurred hide behind complex corporate structures and that many governments take a lax approach to uncovering ultimate beneficial ownership information when vessels are registered or fishing licenses are applied for.

This means those behind the abuses are rarely identified, let alone punished.

“In Senegal, what happens is that the government doesn’t want to share information on owner control of boats. No one can get information on it, not journalists, not activists, sometimes not even people in other parts of government itself,” said Thiam.

Other problems include a lack of legislation to even deal with the problem. For instance, Thiam highlighted that fishers in Senegal work under a collective convention dating back to 1976 that does not mention forced labour.

O’Brien added: “In the Irish context, there has never been a prosecution for human trafficking for labour exploitation in fisheries or any other sector.

“There is a school of thought among progressive lawyers that we need a separate offense on the statute books of ‘labour exploitation’ to obtain convictions. In the case of fishers, some remedies can be obtained via the labour and maritime authorities, but these are lower-level offenses that do not have a dissuasive effect on the vessel owners.”

Victims also face difficulties seeking redress in their home countries.

Complaints to recruiting agencies in fishers’ home countries often come to nothing and can end up having serious consequences.

“The thing about the agency I dealt with at home and other agencies like it is that if you complain to them, they will just say that you are talking too much and you should come home and solve the situation there, and then when you get home, they just blacklist you and you won’t get any fishing work ever again; they will just recruit someone else,” says Adabblah.

Although Adabblah did not see the justice he had hoped for, he is aware his story has ended better than many other victims of forced labour. He, along with his three friends, have made new lives in Ireland, and he is hoping to soon begin the process of becoming a naturalised Irish citizen.

He urges anyone who finds themselves in the same situation to not stay quiet, and instead contact an organization like the ITF or something similar.

Doing so may not always bring victims a satisfactory resolution to their problems, but each publicized case may end up having a long-term positive effect on stopping others from being abused, said O’Brien.

“The ITF has significant resources but not enough to match the scale of the problem. The cases we take up like Noel’s are the tip of the iceberg. However, we use these cases, with the consent of the victims, to highlight the problem with governments and, in turn, campaign for changes in the law,” he said.

IPS UN Bureau Report


Bangladesh: Election with a Foregone Conclusion

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Democracy, Economy & Trade, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Labour, Press Freedom, TerraViva United Nations


Credit: Munir Uz Zaman/AFP via Getty Images

LONDON, Jan 12 2024 (IPS) – Bangladesh just held an election. But it was far from an exercise in democracy.

Sheikh Hasina won her fourth consecutive term, and fifth overall, as prime minister in the general election held on 7 January. The result was never in doubt, with the main opposition party, the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), boycotting the vote over the ruling Awami League’s refusal to let a caretaker government oversee the election. This practice, abolished by the Awami League government in 2011, was, the BNP asserted, the only way to ensure a free and fair vote.

The BNP’s boycott was far from the only issue. A blatant campaign of pre-election intimidation saw government critics, activists and protesters subjected to threats, violence and arrests.

At the government’s urging, court cases against opposition members were accelerated so they’d be locked away before the election, resulting in a reported 800-plus convictions between September and December 2023. It’s alleged that torture and ill-treatment were used against opposition activists to force confessions. There have been reports of deaths in police custody.

Police banned protests, and when a rare mass opposition protest went ahead on 28 October police used rubber bullets, teargas and stun grenades. Following the protest, thousands more opposition supporters were detained on fabricated charges. As well as violence from the notorious Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) – an elite unit notorious for excessive and lethal force – and other elements of the police force, opposition supporters faced attacks by Awami League supporters. Journalists have also been smeared, attacked and harassed, including when covering protests.

As a direct result of the ruling party’s pre-election crackdown, in December 2023 Bangladesh’s civic space rating was downgraded to closed by the CIVICUS Monitor, the collaborative research project that tracks the health of civic space in every country. This places Bangladesh among the world’s worst human rights offenders, including China, Iran and Russia.

Civil society’s concerns were echoed in November 2023 by UN human rights experts who expressed alarm at political violence, arrests, mass detention, judicial harassment, excessive force and internet restrictions.

All-out assault

Such is the severity of the closure of Bangladesh’s civic space that many of the strongest dissenting voices now come from those in exile. But even speaking out from outside Bangladesh doesn’t ensure safety. As a way of putting pressure on exiled activists, the authorities are harassing their families.

Activists aren’t safe even at the UN. A civil society discussion in the wings of the UN Human Rights Council in November was disrupted by government supporters, with Adilur Rahman Khan, a leader of the Bangladeshi human rights organisation Odhikar, subjected to verbal attacks.

Khan is currently on bail while appealing against a two-year jail sentence imposed on him and another Odhikar leader in retaliation for their work to document extrajudicial killings. Following the session in Geneva, Khan was further vilified in online news sites and accused of presenting false information.

Others are coming under attack. Hasina and her government have made much of their economic record, with Bangladesh now one of the world’s biggest garment producers. But that success is largely based on low wages. Like many countries, Bangladesh is currently experiencing high inflation, and garment workers’ recent efforts to improve their situation have been met with repression.

Workers protested in October and November 2023 after a government-appointed panel raised the minimum wage for garment sector workers to a far lower level than they’d demanded. Up to 25,000 people took part in protests, forcing at least 100 factories to close. They were met with police violence. At least two people were killed and many more were injured.

Seemingly no one is safe. Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, who founded the Grameen Bank that has enabled millions to access small loans, was recently convicted of labour law offences in a trial his supporters denounced as politically motivated. Yunus has long been a target for criticism and threats from the ruling party.

Democracy in name only

The quality of Bangladesh’s elections has dramatically declined since the Awami League returned to power in the last reasonably free and fair election in 2008. Each election since has been characterised by serious irregularities and pre-voting crackdowns as the incumbents have done everything they could to hold onto power.

But this time, while the Awami League victory was as huge as ever, turnout was down. It was almost half its 2018 level, at only 41.8 per cent, and even that figure may be inflated. The lack of participation reflected a widespread understanding that the Awami League’s victory was a foregone conclusion: many Awami League supporters didn’t feel they needed to vote, and many opposition backers had no one to vote for.

People knew that many supposedly independent candidates were in reality Awami League supporters running as a pseudo-opposition to offer some appearance of electoral competition. The party that came second is also allied with the ruling party. All electoral credibility and legitimacy are now strained past breaking point.

The government has faced predictably no pressure to abide by democratic rules from key allies such as China and India, although the once-supportive US government has shifted its position in recent years, imposing sanctions on some RAB leaders and threatening to withhold visas for Bangladeshis deemed to have undermined the electoral process.

If the economic situation deteriorates further, discontent is sure to grow, and with other spaces blocked, protests and their violent repression will surely follow. International partners must urge the Bangladeshi government to find a way to avoid this. More violence and intensifying authoritarianism can’t be the way forward. Instead Bangladesh should be urged to start the journey back towards democracy.

Andrew Firmin CIVICUS Editor-in-Chief, co-director and writer for CIVICUS Lens and co-author of the State of Civil Society Report.


Rich Nations, IMF Deepen World Stagnation

Civil Society, COVID-19, Economy & Trade, Environment, Financial Crisis, Global, Headlines, Labour, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations


KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Dec 13 2023 (IPS) – With the US Fed raising interest rates, the world economy is slowing as debt distress spreads across the global South, increasing poverty worldwide to pre-pandemic levels, with the poorest countries faring worst.

Extreme poverty continues to be high and is now worse than before the pandemic in low-income countries (LICs) and among those affected by fragility, violence and conflict. The promise of eradicating poverty worldwide by 2030 has become unachievable.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

The Bretton Woods institutions’ (BWIs) annual meetings in Marrakech in October were only the second-ever in Africa. But the rich nations-dominated BWIs failed yet again to rise to the challenges of our times, setting Africa and the global South even further back.

Instead of fostering cooperation to address the causes and effects of the contemporary catastrophe, neither the International Monetary Fund nor the World Bank governors could agree on joint communiques due to the greater politicisation of multilateral fora.

Indebtedness immobilises governments
Indebtedness and restrictive creditor rules prevent governments from spending more counter-cyclically to overcome the many contractionary tendencies of recent times, besides preventing them from addressing looming social and environmental crises.

The G20’s largest twenty economies have urged strengthening “multilateral coordination by official bilateral and private creditors … to address the deteriorating debt situation and facilitate coordinated debt treatment for debt-distressed countries”.

But its Common Framework to restructure debt has been roundly criticised by civil society, think tanks and even the World Bank on many grounds, including the paltry concessional credit relief offered to a few of the very poorest countries.

In contrast, the G24 caucus of developing countries at the BWIs has emphasised the need for “durable debt resolution measures while collaborating on resolving the structural issues leading to such vulnerabilities.”

But all those advocating purported solutions are not even trying to ensure fiscal space and public spending capacity for counter-cyclical efforts, let alone achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and national development objectives.

The IMF currently imposes additional charges on countries that do not quickly clear their debts to the Fund. Besides the usual fees and interest, borrowing countries paid over $4 billion in such surcharges in 2020-22, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Surcharges will cost debt-distressed countries about $7.9 billion over six years. The G24 has emphasised that surcharges are pro-cyclical and regressive, especially with monetary tightening.

Governments have undertaken contractionary policies and cut imports for lack of foreign exchange. This deepens the problems of heavily indebted poor countries who cannot but count on the Fund for relief and solutions.

At Marrakech, the governing International Monetary and Financial Committee decided to “consider a review of surcharge policies”. The G24 called for “a suspension of surcharges while the review – which we hope will lead to substantial permanent reduction or complete elimination – is being conducted.”

Rich nations have been divided over surcharges. With Ukraine now among the top surcharge payers, following civil society criticisms, the Biden administration’s refusal to review surcharges in 2022 was heavily criticised by the US Congress.

Deepening austerity
IMF fiscal austerity measures of the 1980s returned with a vengeance after the 2008 global financial crisis, and then again during the Covid-19 pandemic from 2020. Most Fund loans require cutting the public sector wage bill (PSWB), the budget line to pay employees.

Most wage earners in many LICs, including nurses, teachers and other social service workers, work for the state, directly or indirectly. Although much needed, these employees have been more likely to be targeted by such budget cuts.

PSWB cuts may involve hiring or wage freezes, or limiting, or even cutting wages. These inevitably undermine government capacities and services. Fiscal consolidation has also involved raising more indirect, consumption taxes, and tax exemptions, e.g., for essential goods such as food.

In 38 countries with over a billion people, loan conditionalities during 2020-22, the three years of the Covid-19 pandemic, meant regressive tax reforms and public spending cuts. PSWB and fuel or electricity subsidy cuts are also common demands worsening economic contractions.

Austerity bound to fail
But the IMF’s own research suggests such austerity policies are generally ineffective in reducing debt, their ostensible purpose. The April 2023 IMF World Economic Outlook acknowledged austerity programmes and fiscal consolidations “do not reduce debt ratios, on average”. Yet, its Fiscal Monitor still demands “fiscal tightening” of most developing countries.

The new IMF-World Bank debt sustainability framework sets the LICs’ external debt-to-GDP ratio limit at 30% or 40%. It insists debt-distressed economies must have lower ratios than ‘strong’ countries, effectively further penalising the weak and vulnerable.

Instead of enabling consistently counter-cyclical macroeconomic frameworks, the IMF’s current short-termist approach is mainly preoccupied with annual, or worse, quarterly balances, mimicking corporate reporting practices.

Such short-termism further limits fiscal space, effectively preventing or deterring public sector investments requiring longer-term macroeconomic frameworks to realise benefits. This discourages ‘patient’ medium- to long-term investments required for national economic planning and transformation, essential for sustainable development.

Restrictive debt and fiscal targets have meant even less public investment. This is typically required of borrowing countries as a credit conditionality. Annual IMF Article IV consultations cause other countries to also accept similar constraints to avoid Fund disapproval.

While a few better-off economies enjoy full employment, most countries face further economic contraction, not least due to interest rate hikes led by the US Fed and their many effects. Instead of being part of the problem, the IMF should be part of the solution.

IPS UN Bureau


COP28: Climate Migrants’ Rights, Risk-based Labor Polices Under the Spotlight

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Headlines, Labour, Middle East & North Africa, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations


Workers, some from regions impacted by climate change, joined queues for accreditation outside Expo 2020 in Dubai, where COP28 is being held. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Workers, some from regions impacted by climate change, joined queues for accreditation outside Expo 2020 in Dubai, where COP28 is being held. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

DUBAI, Dec 7 2023 (IPS) – With COP23 underway, researchers and activists are pointing at the plight of climate migrants.

On November 30, a few hours before the COP23 was officially inaugurated, long, serpentine queues could be seen outside Expo 2020, the venue of the COP23. Standing under the blazing sun, besides delegates and media personnel, were hundreds of migrant workers, a majority of whom were from Nepal and the Philippines.

The workers, who would later be working in different service hubs such as food kiosks and cleaning units throughout the COP, were there to get registered and get a badge that would allow them entry inside the blue zone, the high-security area within the COP. Almost all of these workers are unskilled and employed by various contractors. Despite the long hours of standing in the scorching sun, none of them was complaining—some because they have worked in much worse conditions, while others didn’t want to earn their employers’ wrath by expressing any displeasure.

“The company decides where and when we will work, as well as how long. What is there to complain about? Please understand, it’s risky,” whispered Chandra, a worker from Nepal who requested not to reveal his last name. Chandra also wouldn’t reveal his exact address except that he is “from the upper Mustang,” a district in Nepal that has seen large-scale migration of locals following massive water scarcity caused by the drying of natural springs and groundwater sources.

Chandra’s whispered sentences nearly summarize the environment in which thousands of migrants work: exposure to harsh climate conditions, inadequate pay packages, and oftentimes abuse, say human rights advocates who have documented migrants across the Middle East.

Human Rights Watch, the US-based global human rights defender, recently published a study conducted in three climate-vulnerable countries—Nepal, Bangladesh, and Pakistan—that found that migrant workers faced a strong set of labor abuses that included paying high recruitment fees, low and irregular wages, and high exposure to extreme heat. Although the research did not specifically focus on climate migrants, most of the respondents were from places that have witnessed strong climate change impacts, including extreme weather events.

Ironically, their search for a secure livelihood and a better life also made them vulnerable to working in environments that leave them exposed to similar harsh climatic conditions. For example, during the construction of Expo City, the very venue of COP28, migrant workers were seen working in scorching heat that could lead to a plethora of health challenges, including heat stroke and extreme dehydration leading to chronic kidney failure. In fact, HRW’s study found that several migrants had had kidney failure and were on dialysis, which not only cost them their jobs but also pushed them into a financial crisis as they needed to take out loans for medical treatment.

“Our study interviewed 73 current and former UAE-based workers and 42 families of current migrant workers between May and September 2023 from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal. Ninety-four of these interviewees live in or are from areas already facing the devastating consequences of the climate crisis, with scientific studies linking extreme weather events like floods, cyclones, and the salinization of agricultural lands to climate change. In addition, former and current outdoor workers interviewed were working in jobs like construction, cleaning, agriculture, animal herding, and security and were often exposed to the UAE’s extreme heat, which is also increasing due to climate change,” says Michael Page, Deputy Director in the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch.

Climate Migration: A global snapshot

According to the International Organization of Migration (IOM), the implications of the climate crisis on migration are profound and are ever-increasing. IOM cites data produced by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center that shows in 2022 a total of 31.8 million internal displacements due to weather-related hazards.

The World Bank Groundwell Report also shows that in South Asia, 12.5 million people were displaced by climate disasters in 2022, while the numbers are 7.5 million in Sub-Saharan Africa and 305,000 in the Middle East and North Africa region. The report projects that without immediate and concerted climate and development action, the number could go up to over 216 million by 2050.

According to the Nepal government’s own assessment, the UAE, along with Qatar, remain the most popular work destinations among young Nepalis. Data collected by the country’s Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE), 37,492 young people arrived in the UAE for work between mid-July and mid-October of the current fiscal year alone. This group includes 7,015 women and 30,477 men.

A moment of global recognition

On Friday, Nepal, one of the biggest source countries of unskilled and climate migrants, found a special mention in the speech of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres at the inaugural ceremony of COP28. “Just days ago, I was on the melting ice of Antarctica. Not long before, I was among the melting glaciers of Nepal. These two spots are far in distance, but united in crisis. Polar ice and glaciers are vanishing before our eyes, causing havoc the world over, from landslides and floods to rising seas,” Guterres said, addressing the global leaders at the opening ceremony.

Soon after, addressing the media, Nepal Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal said that his country was preparing to establish Nepal’s rights to receive compensation for loss and damage. According to him, Guterres’s speech had drawn the world’s attention to the climate crisis in Nepal, and his government would now push for the much-deserved compensation under the newly operationalized Loss and Damage mechanism.

Maheshwar Dhakal, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Forests and Environment, who is at the COP, says that Nepal has plans to address climate-induced displacement and migrations at their root, but it needs external support and resources.

“Due to climate change and loss of livelihood, our youths are migrating rapidly to other countries. This is also destabilizing the family value system and causing social disorder as youths are separated from their family elders. This is under discussion at the political level. But at the same time, unless and until equal education, opportunities, and a level of salary (available in other countries) are made available, we cannot stop this migration. We have assessed that the total cost to implement our National Action Program (that can address climate displacement) will be USD 50 billion, of which we can only raise USD 2 billion; we need the rest from external sources such as the various funds.”

Nepal senior delegate Maheshwar Dhakal. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Nepal senior delegate Maheshwar Dhakal. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Need of the hour: a risk-based labor policy

However, experts believe that host countries, particularly the COP presidency UAE, where migrant workers make up 88% of the labor force, can take immediate steps while negotiators develop their respective arguments and strategies to claim compensation for climate refugees and displaced people under the climate finance mechanisms.

One of these is adopting a risk-based labor protection policy.

Currently, the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MoHRE) is implementing the ‘Midday Break’ initiative, which broadly means workers should not work outside from 12 to 3 p.m.  Violations of the ban can lead to a fine of Dh5,000 for each worker from non-compliant employers. The maximum fine amount is Dh50,000 when multiple workers are made to work during the banned hours.

However, the policy also allows employers to continue working through midday in areas where it is deemed unfeasible to postpone work until it is completed. These works typically include roofing, manning traffic, containing hazards or repairing damages such as interruptions to water supply or electricity, etc.

These provisions provide escape routes for employers who continue to push migrant workers into unsustainable and risky work conditions. The same ‘loopholes’ also make the labor policies inadequate for protecting migrant workers from harsh weather conditions, says Page of HRW, who thinks adopting a public health risk-based policy would be the right way to ensure migrant workers’ rights.

A risk-based approach would mean that countries, competent authorities, and employers would identify, assess, and understand the public health risks to which the workers are exposed and take the appropriate mitigation measures in accordance with the level of risk. One of these strategies would be to use the wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) index, which is already in use in nations like Canada.

The wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) unit considers a number of environmental factors, such as air temperature, humidity, and air movement, which contribute to the perception of hotness by people.

Page thinks that the adoption of the wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) would be a great way to assess the risks for migrant workers in a place like the UAE because it can cover more risk factors that are usually ignored by employers but are regularly faced by the workers. For example, in some workplace situations, solar load (heat from radiant sources) is also considered in determining the WBGT as the basis of the risk assessment.

“If the UAE really cares about the protection of its migrant workforce, then they should also care about adopting a risk assessment method that is more reflective of local conditions; that will also ensure climate justice for the workers,” Page says.

IPS UN Bureau Report


Global Civil Society Launches Manifesto for Ethical AI

Civil Society, Climate Change, Environment, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Inequality, Labour, TerraViva United Nations


Credit: Forus

NEW DELHI, India, Dec 6 2023 (IPS) – We, a global coalition of over 50 civil society and human rights organizations from over 30 countries have co-developed the “Civil Society Manifesto for Ethical AI”, a groundbreaking initiative aiming to steer AI policies towards safeguarding rights and deconolonising AI discourse. We question, and we are not the only ones: whose voices, ideas and values matter in AI ?

“If Silicon Valley was a country it would probably be the richest in the world. So how genuinely committed is Big Tech and AI to funding and fostering human rights over profits? The barebones truth is that if democracy was profitable, human rights lawyers and defenders including techtivists from civil society organizations wouldn’t be sitting around multistakeholder engagement tables demanding accountability from Big Tech and AI. How invested are they in real social impact centred on rights despite glaring evidence to the contrary?,” asks Nina Sangma, of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, a regional organization founded in 1992 by Indigenous Peoples’ movements with over 40 members across 14 countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

We are currently at a critical juncture where most countries lack a comprehensive AI policy or regulatory framework. The sudden reliance on AI and other digital technologies has introduced new – and often “invisible” – vulnerabilities, and we have just seen the tip of the iceberg, literally melting from the effects of climate change.

Some things we have already seen though: AI is still a product of historical data representing inequities and inequalities. A study analyzing 100+ AI-generated images using Midjourney’s diffusion models revealed consistent biases, including depicting older men for specialized jobs, binary gender representations, featuring urban settings regardless of location, and generating images predominantly reinforcing “ageism, sexism and classism”, with a bias toward a Western perspective.

Data sources continue to be “toxic”. AI tools learn from vast amounts of training data, often consisting of billions of inputs scraped from the internet. This data risks to perpetuate harmful stereotypes and often contains toxic content like pornography, misogyny, violence, and bigotry. Furthermore, researchers found bias in up to 38.6% of ‘facts’ used by AI.

Despite increased awareness, the discourse surrounding AI, like the technology itself, has predominantly been shaped by “Western, whiteness, and wealth”. The discrimination that we see today is the result of a cocktail of “things gone wrong” – ranging from discriminatory hiring practices based on gender and race, to the prevalence of algorithms biases.

“Biases are not a coincidence. Artificial intelligence is a machine that draws conclusions from data based on statistical models, therefore, the first thing it eliminates is variations. And in the social sphere that means not giving visibility to the margins,” declares Judith Membrives i Llorens, head of digital policies at – Organitzacions per la Justícia Global.

“AI development isn’t the sole concern here. The real issue stems from keeping citizens in the dark, restricting civic freedoms and the prevalence of polarisation and prejudice on several dimensions of our societies. This results in unequal access, prevalent discrimination, and a lack of transparency in technological processes and beyond. Despite acknowledging the potential and power of these technologies, it is clear that many are still excluded and left at the margins due to systemic flaws. Without addressing this, the global development of AI and other emerging technologies won’t be inclusive. Failure to act now and to create spaces of discussion for new visions to emerge, will mean these technologies continue to reflect and exacerbate these disparities,” says Mavalow Christelle Kalhoule, civil society leader in Burkina Faso and across the Sahel region, and Chair of the global civil society network Forus.

The Civil Society Manifesto for Ethical AI asks, what are the potential pitfalls of using current AI systems to inform future decisions, particularly in terms of reinforcing prevailing disparities?

Today, as EU policymakers are expected to close a political agreement for the AI Act, we ask, do international standards for regulating machine learning include the voice of the people? With the Manifesto we explore, challenge, disrupt, and reimagine the underlying assumptions within this discourse but also to broaden the discussion to incorporate communities beyond the traditional “experts.” Nothing about us, without us.

“We want Artificial Intelligence, but created by and for everyone, not only for a few,” adds Judith Membrives i Llorens.

From the “Internet of Cows” to the impact of AI on workers’ rights and on civic space, developed by over 50 civil society organisations, the Manifesto includes 17 case studies on their experiences, visions and stories around AI. With each story, we want to weave a different path to build new visions on AI systems that expand rather than restrict freedoms worldwide.

“The current development of AI is by no means an inevitable path. It is shaped by Big Tech companies because we let them. It is time for the civil society to stand up for their data rights,” says Camilla Lohenoja, of SASK, the workers’ rights organisation of the trade unions of Finland.

“Focusing on ethical and transparent technology also means giving equal attention to the fairness and inclusivity of its design and decision-making processes. The integrity of AI is shaped as much by its development as by its application,” says Hanna Pishchyk of the youth group Digital Grassroots.

Ultimately, the Manifesto aims to trigger a global – and not just sectorial and Western-dominated dialogue – on AI development and application.

Civil society is here not just as a mere token in multistakeholder spaces, we bring forward what others often dismiss, and we actively participate worldwide in shaping a technological future that embraces inclusivity, accountability, and ethical advancements.

Bibbi Abruzzini, Forus and Nina Sangma, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP)

IPS UN Bureau


Hurricane Otis and the Indifference Toward the Children of Acapulco

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Gender, Gender Violence, Headlines, Human Rights, Inequality, Labour, Latin America & the Caribbean, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations


ACAPULCO, Mexico, Nov 2 2023 (IPS) – Acapulco is a paradise. A port of golden sunsets, toasted sand, and deep blue sea. Its dream beaches captivated the hearts of Elvis Presley and Elizabeth Taylor. US President John F. Kennedy chose its shores to spend his honeymoon with Jackie Kennedy. Its luxury hotels and the untamed sea made it the most famous tourist destination in Mexico.

Rosi Orozco

Today, Acapulco is devastated. A Category 5 hurricane—the deadliest possible rating—called “Otis” hit the beach on October 25 with incomparable force. No one anticipated it. Hours before it made landfall, it was just an inconvenient storm. Suddenly it became a deadly cyclone. Most of the hotels are destroyed, the sea swallowed people, houses were blown away, and dozens of people are dead.

In the last century, its beauty attracted the world’s most influential celebrities. Its tranquil mornings and lively nightlife attracted actresses, singers, politicians, aristocratic musicians, and families who wanted to spend their summers by the sea. I myself spent my youth at the family timeshare apartment in Acapulco, and it was there that I met my husband Alejandro, with whom I’ve been married for 40 years. My life is permanently connected to Acapulco.

Luxury businessmen, millionaire athletes, and Michelin-starred chefs arrived. Also drug dealers, money launderers, and men looking for girls and boys to rape in exchange for food or a few dollars for their parents who lived in the city’s poor areas.

Because there are two Acapulcos. They both share an airport and roads, so all roads lead to that pair of versions of the same city. There is a “diamond Acapulco” where the rich vacation with all the amenities at their disposal. And there is a “traditional Acapulco,” where the poor live who work for wealthy tourists.

The people who inhabit “diamond Acapulco” and “traditional Acapulco” do not usually cross paths. They live in the same city, but they are separated by golf courses and exclusive shopping malls. Only rich foreigners and wealthy nationals cross to the poor side when they feel a repugnant urge: to make their plans for child sex tourism a reality with girls and boys as young as 3 years old.

Acapulco is one of the most unequal tourist destinations in the world. In Mexico, it is the most unequal municipality of all: more than 60% of its 900,000 inhabitants live in extreme poverty, which means they do not know what they will eat today or tomorrow. They are the workers who serve plates of fresh seafood, who sweep marble floors, who fill the wine glasses of tourists.

For years, journalists and human rights organizations have told horrific stories that combine poverty, inequality, and sex tourism: a 6-year-old boy rented out to be photographed naked in exchange for milk and eggs; a 9-year-old girl sold to a Canadian tourist to be his wife for a month; homeless teenagers invited to sex parties on lavish yachts in exchange for food; parents and mothers waiting outside hotels for their children to be raped for a price paid in dollars per hour.

Those pedophiles and child molesters turned Acapulco into the country’s primary destination for child sexual tourism. They also led Mexico to the disgraceful second position in the production of child pornography, only surpassed by Thailand, according to data from the Mexican Chamber of Deputies and the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Today, Acapulco is a different place. Little remains of the port that enchanted singers Agustín Lara and Luis Miguel. There are thousands of poor families without homes, hundreds of workers who lost their jobs, and dozens of fishermen without boats to go out to sea to find sustenance. The destruction is so extensive that complete economic recovery is estimated to take decades, not years.

Under these conditions, childhood is at very high risk. Many families have lost so much that their bodies are the only currency they have left. And in the dirty business of forced prostitution, child bodies are the most sought after.

Amid this unprecedented crisis in Mexico, the Chamber of Deputies approved amendments to the general law against human trafficking. These changes aim to broaden the scope of the law enacted in 2012 and update it to address new technologies that traffickers and organized crime engaged in sexual exploitation can use. The wording has some issues that we are still analyzing, but it also includes positive aspects.

For example, it introduces new protections for individuals with injuries, intellectual disabilities, and Afro-Mexican towns and communities. The latter represent 6.5% of the total population in Guerrero and 4% of the residents in Acapulco, according to the National Population Council.

Civil society organizations are monitoring these changes and hope that the deputies will honor their commitment to protecting the victims.

Meanwhile, it is the responsibility of all, not just in Mexico, to help Acapulco back on its feet, a place that has given so much to both nationals and foreigners. It won’t be easy or quick, but every day we delay puts the vulnerable children at risk due to the magnitude of sexual tourism in that beautiful port.

After Hurricane Otis, Acapulco will be different. Its reconstruction is an opportunity to build a new city on the ruins of depravity, one with values and respect for human dignity. I long for the day to see it standing and for its coastline, beach, and air to remain a paradise, especially for children like me who grew up happily by the sea.

IPS UN Bureau