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Businesses must establish grievance mechanisms enabling workers to report trafficking and exploitation - UN expert

25 October 2019

NEW YORK (25 October 2019) – Companies need to create grievance mechanisms that enable workers to report trafficking or severe exploitation without risking losing their jobs or residence status, a UN human rights expert has said.

“Workers who are victims of trafficking or severe exploitation currently face numerous challenges hampering their access to judicial and non-judicial grievance mechanisms,” said Special Rapporteur Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, presenting a full report on the issue to the General Assembly.

“In most cases, workers are mainly concerned about recovering unpaid wages, maintaining their contracts and improving their workplace conditions. However, resorting to grievance mechanisms frequently results in them losing their jobs and facing uncertainty over recovering their wages and other payments.

“Migrant workers face additional concerns, such as the fear of being deported, which prevents them from making complaints to the authorities. This is a particular issue when they have faced repeated threats from their employers that their visa, work permit or residence depends on their contract with that employer.

“This is also a consequence of current restrictive migration policies in many States, where undocumented migrants are removed promptly without allowing time for an initial assessment aimed at identifying potential victims of trafficking.”

The Special Rapporteur called on companies to act now. ”Businesses need to establish procedures aimed at enabling workers, including workers in their supply chains, to acquire access to grievance mechanisms and report exploitation without fear of being deported or losing their jobs,” Giammarinaro said.

“If workers are found to be in exploitative situations, or have reported exploitation, these mechanisms should also provide them with viable solutions throughout the supply chains, such as a subcontractor having to improve working conditions, or the parent company having to provide workers with reparations and alternative employment opportunities if the contract has been terminated. The systems should also include provisions for residence status when needed, in cooperation with host governments.

“I urge companies to engage with workers and their representatives to develop grievance mechanisms based on cooperation between public institutions, businesses and social actors.

“Grievance mechanisms and other internal redress mechanisms should be easily accessible to workers and be based on trust.  This trust can be achieved only when workers and workers’ representatives are centrally involved in the design, implementation and monitoring of remediation tools. In short, these mechanisms can be successful only if the voices of workers are included.”

The Special Rapporteur praised the legislation on transparency passed by a few States, but urged further action.  “It is now necessary to go beyond minimal reporting obligations and require a higher level of commitment from companies,” she said.

During the preparation of her report, the expert engaged with trades unions  and a wide range of other interested parties, including initiatives such as the Fair Food Programme. 


Ms Maria Grazia Giammarinaro (Italy) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2014. She has been a Judge since 1991 and currently serves as a Judge at the Civil Court of Rome. She was the Special Representative and Coordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings of the OSCE, and served in the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Justice, Freedom and Security in Brussels, where she was responsible for combating human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children. Ms Giammarinaro drafted the EU Directive on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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