July 7, 2006

In the United Nations processes described in the last entry (and the United States immigration debate I might add), there is virtually no discussion of portable justice—the right and ability of transnational workers to access justice for workplace wrongs in the country of employment once they have left that country.

Most migratory norms focus on the rights in the country where the migrants are physically present. But the migrants’ ability to vindicate rights violated in one state when they return home or move to a third state is an issue that has received little attention.

The UN Secretary General recognizes in his May 18 report on Migration and Development that “Labour rights are the mainstay in the prevention of exploitation and ought to be fiercely safeguarded.” But without addressing the significant absence of justice for transnational migrants the picture is incomplete and enforcement of migrant labor rights is illusory. It is unrealistic to shape a national regulatory scheme which mandates that global migrants must continue to be physically present within that nation’s borders—even after completion of job contracts—in order to benefit from its protections. For today’s global migrants this is truly inappropriate and unacceptable.

Businesses are global. Workers are global. Justice is not. This must change. Migrant workers must be guaranteed that they can enforce their labor rights from where ever they migrate in the world and that they will not be denied substantive protections because they leave the country of employment.

It is critical that the United Nations addresses and embraces this issue. If not migrant workers will continue to labor in the shadows of globalization.

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