APMM: Labour export program and further commodification of migrants as prescriptions for development

September 19, 2014

Photo from APMM website

Below is a critique of the Final Outcome Document of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development (OWG) by APRN member Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM)

18 September 2014

Fourteen years ago, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were developed without much of a mention of migrants or migration though most, if not all, of the MDG themes were relevant to migrants. This, it may seem, was an oversight that the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development wished to rectify especially now that migration and its so-called potentials for development are increasingly discussed globally in the face of the rising remittance versus the declining direct investments and official development aids.

However, what appeared in the final outcome document of the OWG was not so much as a rectification but more of a distortion of the realities of present-day migration and the promotion of an illusion that migration, as moulded by neoliberal framework, could contribute to development.

The Campaign for Peoples Goals for Sustainable Development has released a lucid critique of the outcome document and pointed out not only the shortcomings and gaps of the targets, but more so its fundamental flaw of failing to veer away from the neoliberalism framework that has doomed the MDG from the start, and is posed to take the post-2015 development agenda to a similar path unless reversed.

While there are positive points that can be said of the outcome document that can impact on the condition of migrants – particularly Goal 8.8 that calls to “protect labour rights and promote safe and secure working environments of all workers, including migrant workers, particularly women migrants, and those in precarious employment”; Goal 10.3 that aims to “ensure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of outcome, including through eliminating discriminatory laws, policies and practice…” that may be assumed to include migrants, and; Goal 10.c that targets “by 2030, reduce to less than 3% the transaction costs of migrant remittances and eliminate remittance corridors with costs higher than 5%” - these are eclipsed by the obvious adherence of the document to the migration for development agenda that serve neoliberal globalization.

Since its introduction, grassroots migrants and migrant advocates have challenged the migration for development line peddled by the United Nations High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development and its brainchild, the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD). While these intergovernmental meetings have repeatedly professed to not use migration as a development strategy, their doublespeak has been exposed in the agenda, and outcome declarations and recommendations they have released.

The introductory part of the outcome document where it stated the reaffirmation of the commitment expressed in the Declaration of the High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development, has been shown as the pervasive outlook of the document on migration and development.

While there were spattered mentions of migrants, the most glaring and significant were in Goal 10 Reduce inequality within and among countries. Goal 10.7 set the target to “facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies” while Goal 10.c focused on remittance rate.

Though the inclusion of the Goal 10 is a step forward, the inclusion of the targets mentioned above showed that the OWG believed that: 1. Migration, that is a “planned and well-managed” migration, can reduce inequalities within and among countries, and; 2. That the concern on remittance is confined merely on the transaction rate.

These analyses are not only superficial but are downright encouragement for countries to further develop and systematize labour export programs in the guise of managing migration, and to exert efforts to increase the volume of remittance as means to address the inequality among countries, inequality within countries (and the inequality between men and women) that have shaped current migration.

Countries that have been exporting their labour force for years, and even decades, have never experienced leaps in their development. The Philippines, for example, that has been adhering to the neoliberal paradigm for decades alongside perfecting the business of labour export, remains mired in economic and socio-political crisis. Labour export has never transformed the economic fundamentals of the Philippines and has even resulted to serious and far-reaching social impacts to the people.

The UNHLD on International Migration and Development, the GFMD, and now, the OWG, are all united to advance remittance-driven development. In the recent decade and with the constant prodding of the powerful OECD and international financial institutions such as the World Bank, remittance of migrants which have surpassed official development aids in total volume have been targeted as a financial source to motor development efforts. Mentions of seeking and mobilizing additional financial sources for development in the outcome document can only be construed as to also mean the use of remittance to financing development.

As pointed out in the series of International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees (IAMR) and the historic International Migrants Tribunal on the GFMD, the remittance-centered development is not only false but also fails to address the fundamental economic, political and social problems of underdevelopment of migrant-sending countries. Moreover, to put remittance – that has always been in an upward trajectory even with current remittance costs – as a driving force for development will only lead to the further commodification of migrants, expansion of the labour export program that treat migrants as export goods, and the slavery and exclusion of migrants in host countries.

Alongside the commodification of migrants, subscribing to the declaration of the UNHLD on International Migration and Development also will perpetuate the flexibilization of migrant labour as the said meeting in October 2013 upheld circular migration which is but a deodorized name for temporary or guest workers program of migrant-receiving countries. While ostensibly concerned with how professionals especially those in the health sector can be retained in the developing countries, the UNHLD and the OWG did not so much as critique the labour flexibility schemes applied to migrant labour that keep them cheap and vulnerable to abuses.

The outcome document of the OWG on sustainable development not only leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to addressing the basic problems of forced migration and commodification of migrants, but is also an ominous sign of how the post-2015 development agenda will be shaped. It is even more imperative now for grassroots migrants and advocates to heighten advocacy against the neoliberal framework of migration for development and promote development justice as an alternative to end the commodification of migrants, dismantle labour export programs, and promote a development that is genuinely equitable, sustainable and rights-based.#