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Costa Rica: Encouraged by progress but more needs to be done to prevent exploitation affecting marginalised, says expert

25 November 2022

SAN JOSE (25 November 2022) – A UN expert today welcomed Costa Rica’s steps to eliminate contemporary forms of slavery but urged the Government and businesses to do more to ensure marginalised groups are not exploited.

Ending a 10-day visit to the country, Tomoya Obokata, the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, called on the authorities implement existing laws, regulations and policies more effectively to prevent and address labour and sexual exploitation and trafficking in persons.

“I was encouraged to learn about Costa Rica’s strong institutional and legal frameworks to prevent trafficking in persons, as well as labour or sexual exploitation. Initiatives such as Casas de la Alegría, Labour Migratory Traceability System (SITLAM), and the Code of Conduct to prevent commercial sexual exploitation also demonstrate the commitment of the Government and of employers to tackle these practices”.

“However, in practice particularly migrant workers, indigenous peoples, people of African descent and LGBTIQ+ persons continue to face a high risk of being exploited and in some instances, they are subjected to forced labour in different sectors of the economy,” Obokata said in a statement.

The expert was informed of exploitative working conditions among some employers in the agro-industry, the domestic sector, commerce and in the transportation and private security sectors, among others. Working conditions in the agroindustry are in some cases sub-standard and hazardous due to the extensive exposure to agrochemicals. Other concerns related to low wages despite long working hours, housing, and sufficient access to health services and social security benefits. Migrant workers and those in an irregular situation face the worst conditions, Obokata said.

“The Government’s recently announced intention to crack down on migration due to the alleged ‘financial burden’ which migrants place on the country can increase the risk of trafficking in persons for both labour and sexual exploitation,” the expert said.

“I call on the Government to strengthen due diligence measures for businesses and to enhance the effectiveness of labour inspections in order to hold non-compliant businesses accountable. Upholding labour rights and profitability go hand in hand and responsible companies will also not fear inspections or limit trade union rights,” Obokata said.

Obokata also assessed commercial sexual exploitation in the tourism industry which affects children in some instances. This points to insufficient measures taken by the government and the tourism sector itself in preventing and addressing this crime.

“I urge Costa Rica to enhance the protection of the whole population by proactively addressing discrimination based on sex, race, migration status, nationality, sexual orientation and/or gender identity and other grounds,” the expert said.

During his visit, Obokata met with Government ministers and other officials, civil society representatives, trade unions, members of the business and diplomatic communities, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and UN agencies.

The Special Rapporteur’s report on the visit will be presented to the Human Rights Council in September 2023.

Mr. Tomoya Obokata was appointed UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery in March 2020. Mr. Obokata is a Japanese scholar of international law and human rights, specialising in transnational organised crime, human trafficking and modern slavery. He currently serves as Professor of International Human Rights Law at York Law School and previously taught at Keele University, Queen's University Belfast and Dundee University (all in the United Kingdom Great Britain and Northern Ireland).

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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