The FFACT project’s worker-led digital surveys reveal data on recruitment-related debt and loans for Indian migrant workers in GCC countries.

Navigating the intricate landscape of global labor migration, where the pursuit of economic opportunities often intertwines with the risk of exploitation, has become a pressing concern. As new and emerging human rights due diligence (HRDD) legislation, such as the recently passed EU Corporate Social Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD), gains traction, the demand for transparent and accurate information regarding labor recruitment costs has escalated. As global supply chains grapple with the pervasive issue of debt bondage, a deeply rooted manifestation of forced labor, the urgent need to shed light on the hidden financial burdens shouldered by migrant workers has become critical. The Fostering Fee Accountability and Cost Tracking (FFACT) project, a collaborative effort between Verité and over 10 other civil society organizations (CSOs) in India, Bangladesh, and Malaysia, is addressing the need for transparent, accurate calculations of recruitment costs through worker-led digital surveys.

The Hidden Toll for Workers in High-risk migrant corridors

Certain migrant worker communities, particularly Bangladeshi workers migrating to Malaysia and their Indian counterparts seeking employment in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, face heightened vulnerabilities when pursuing overseas opportunities. Estimates from 2022 show that the annual outflow of Indian migrants to Qatar alone ranged between 650,000 to 700,000, while over 228,000 Bangladeshi migrants made their way to Malaysia. The global spotlight cast by Qatar’s 2022 FIFA World Cup construction projects exposed the harm and human rights abuses migrant workers faced, many of whom are still awaiting recompense for illegally charged recruitment fees and other forms of labor exploitation. While recent actions by US Customs and Border Control, such as withhold and release orders, have pressured Malaysian companies to reimburse migrant workers for recruitment costs, mere reimbursement fails to address the root cause of workers’ vulnerability to debt bondage and forced labor. A genuine commitment to upholding Human Rights Due Diligence means employers must bear the upfront costs associated with procuring labor. Addressing the pervasiveness of debt bondage risk for migrant workers, The Fostering Fee Accountability and Cost Tracking (FFACT) project, a collaborative initiative involving local civil society organizations (CSOs) in India and Bangladesh, is raising awareness about the risks of debt bondage and forced labor dynamics inherent in the labor recruitment process for overseas jobs. FFACT participants from migrant communities are harnessing innovative digital tools to collect accurate and transparent recruitment cost information directly from over 600 interviews with migrant workers from India and Bangladesh.

What Migrant Workers Pay: India to Gulf Cooperation Council Corridor

What Migrants Workers Pay: India to Gulf Cooperation Council Corridor 

FFACT worker interviews show migrant workers are shouldering a significant financial burden in the form of recruitment-related costs, often resorting to taking out loans to pay labor agents or brokers. The data reveals that workers migrating from India to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are paying at least $1,430 in recruitment fees and associated costs, including expenses such as medical examinations, passport and visa processing fees, and travel expenses. Notably, the ILO clearly defines these expenses as costs that should be paid by employers in the process of recruiting foreign workers. Furthermore, 99% of the 281 Indian workers interviewed reported having to take out loans to pay recruitment fees to at least one labor agent or broker.

What Migrant Workers Pay: Bangladesh to Malaysia Corridor


what workers' pay Bangladesh Malaysia Infographic

The data on Bangladeshi workers migrating to Malaysia reveal staggering recruitment costs, averaging US $5,000 per worker. This is particularly concerning when viewed in the context of Malaysia’s minimum wage for manufacturing jobs, which stands at MYR 1500 (approximately US $315) per month. Moreover, much like Indian migrant workers, Bangladeshi migrants are subsidizing employer companies by directly paying out-of-pocket for recruitment-related costs. An overwhelming majority of the 357 interviewed workers in Bangladesh reported bearing the costs of the recruitment process, such as passport administration (94%), travel and lodging (91%), and even medical examinations required for the recruitment process (76%). This practice not only goes against ethical recruitment practices but also runs counter to international labor standards, which firmly place the responsibility of such expenses on employers.

Fostering Trust: A Cornerstone of Accurate Data Collection


Community leader in India shares safe migration guidance with community members who are considering migrating for a job.  

Community leader in India shares safe migration guidance with community members who are considering migrating for a job.

Ensuring the accuracy of data gathered through worker interviews hinges on a crucial factor: establishing trust with survey respondents. Disclosing sensitive information about recruitment fees, informal lending practices, and experiences of threat, harm, or other labor and human rights violations can potentially expose workers to retribution from employers and recruitment brokers. Moreover, the migration experience itself and the acquisition of debt can be a source of shame and feelings of failure, further compounding the challenge of open disclosure. (For worker-guidance tools such as the SAFE TIPS Handbooks, see FFACT project website www.verite.org/ffact) To address these concerns and cultivate an environment conducive to transparent reporting, the FFACT project has adopted a multifaceted approach. One of the project’s foundational steps was to partner with local civil society and community organizations. Through these partnerships, key community leaders, such as local healthcare workers, have been mobilized to provide workers with safe migration guidance, empowering them with the knowledge and support required for informed decision-making at every step of their journey. This not only contributes to trust-building but also equips workers with the tools to navigate the complex migration process with greater confidence and awareness. Combining innovative digital tools with community-based trust-building initiatives has resulted in promoting worker-centric data that local CSOs can leverage to drive evidence-based advocacy efforts. Empowered with this resource, civil society, and community leaders are engaging in cross-stakeholder dialogues with local authorities, presenting a compelling case for improved interventions and policies aimed at addressing the pervasive issue of debt bondage exploitation.

FFACT is funded by the United States Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL).

About the Author: Sarah Lince, Senior Program Manager, Verité. As Director of the FFACT project, Sarah applies her expertise in labor mobility and ethical recruitment, as well as extensive hands-on experience in the construction trades. For over fifteen years, Sarah has been managing and directing complex, multi-stakeholder projects, with a particular interest in using ICT tools to involve workers in efforts to combat forced labor in global supply chains.