Ingram symposium and workshop on migrant worker recruitment in Asia Pacific


There are over 100 million migrant workers globally, many employed on temporary contracts in industries such as construction, agriculture, fishing, manufacturing, hospitality and domestic work. For numerous developing countries in the Asia Pacific region, labour migration is a key strategy for poverty reduction and economic development. Yet many low-wage migrant workers routinely encounter violations of their basic human rights and labour rights, as well as their legal rights under domestic laws and employment contracts. These violations can often be traced to misconduct within the private recruitment industry in workers’ home and host countries.

On 22 October, UNSW Law hosted the first international research workshop on migrant worker recruitment in the Asia Pacific region in almost a decade. The Ingram Workshop brought together many of the region’s leading labour migration experts to tackle the pressing challenges to migrant worker protection in recruitment. Participants crossed geographies and disciplines, and were drawn from academia, the recruitment industry, intergovernmental organisations, civil society and think tanks

Participants shared research findings and engaged in robust debate on strategies for improved governance and accountability within the recruitment industry. They also explored ethical recruitment business models that address current regulatory weaknesses. Participants identified numerous opportunities for innovation and collaboration across borders in the future. They also explored the potential for targeted engagement in national, sub-regional, regional and global forums that shape labour migration policies in the Asia Pacific region. The Workshop has given rise to a new research network on migrant recruitment in the Asia Pacific region, and a report on the Workshop will soon be publicly available.

The Ingram Workshop was preceded on 21 October by a public Symposium that was one of few forums in Australia to focus on challenges to governance and migrant worker protection in the Asia Pacific region.  It was the first to focus specifically on the challenges posed by privatized migrant worker recruitment.  The Ingram Symposium provided a unique opportunity for a range of Australian stakeholders to engage with pioneers of efforts to address these challenges throughout the region.

In particular, Symposium participants focused on migrant workers’ subjection to deception and improper fees during recruitment, and to workers’ common experience of indecent work conditions, unpaid wages and employer abuse abroad.  Discussions reflected that in most countries, a rights-based approach to governance of labour migration remains elusive.

In the opening panel of the Symposium, Professor Abrar Chowdhury (University of Dhaka, Bangladesh) spoke about the strategic importance of domestic law reform initiatives, using the example of Bangladesh’s ratification of the UN Migrant Worker Convention in August 2011 and its impact on new domestic laws. He also referred to the Dhaka Principles for Migration with Dignity as a baseline standard for enhancing respect for migrant workers. William Gois (Migrant Forum in Asia) questioned whether an effective, rights-based approach to migration governance was possible, given the current gap between governmental processes and the experiences of migrants. He drew attention to the need to include migrant voices in global policy processes and to shift the focus of migration governance efforts from security to rights. Dr Laurie Berg (UTS) highlighted the problems encountered by Australia’s migrant workers, who include working holiday-makers, international students, and workers on s457 visas who increasingly perform low-wage work and, as a number of audience participants demonstrated, encounter problems similar to those encountered by migrant workers in other countries.

The second Panel focused on the migrant worker recruitment industry in the Asia Pacific region. The Forum heard about current private sector recruitment reform efforts such as the Fair Hiring Initiative, run by panellist Marie Apostol, that is committed to demonstrating the commercial viability of an ethical recruitment business model that does not charge placement fees to migrant workers. Dovelyn Agunias (Migration Policy Institute) emphasised the need to reform the relationships between recruitment agencies in countries of origin and countries of destination as part of the recruitment reform ‘puzzle’, as migrant workers bear the cost of bad practices between recruitment agencies. Nilim Baruah (ILO) referred to the relevance of ILO conventions and protocols as base standards of conduct.

The Symposium and Workshop were convened by Bassina Farbenblum (Senior Lecturer, UNSW Law and Director of the Australian Human Rights Centre’s Migrant and Refugee Rights Project), Patrick Earle (Executive Director, Diplomacy Training Program), Justine Nolan (Associate Professor, UNSW Law and Deputy Director of the Australian Human Rights Centre) and Nicola Piper (Professor of International Migration, University of Sydney).


Photo1. Symposium Panel on Labour Migration Governance: (L-R) Prof. Abrar Choudhury, Dr Laurie Berg, Prof. Nicola Piper (moderator), William Gois

Photo 2. Symposium Panel Labour Migration Recruitment: (L-R) Nilim Baruah, Marie Apostol, Dovelyn Agunias, William Gois (moderator)

Download Ingram Workshop Report and Documents or listen to a podcast:

  1. Full report
  2. Speaker biographies
  3. List of participants
  4. Program
  5. Symposium Podcast