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UN human rights experts raise alarm about the situation of Indian migrant workers in Gabon Special Economic Zone

GENEVA (26 April 2019) – UN experts have raised alarm about credible information received concerning the situation of Indian migrant workers working for an India-based timber company, Accurate Industries, in the Gabon Special Economic Zone in Nkok (GSEZ). This situation may amount to forced labour and human trafficking.

The information concerns a group of around 40 Indian migrant workers, who reportedly were brought to Gabon in a deceptive manner and had their identity documents confiscated by the company, thus preventing them from leaving GSEZ or Gabon. Moreover, it is alleged that the workers have not been provided with a written contact or a valid work visa, have no weekly rest time, are required to do excessive overtime work, and receive irregular wage payments. 

“These precarious working conditions, restrictions on their freedom of movement and confiscation of their identity documents by the company may amount to contemporary forms of slavery and to human trafficking,” said the experts.

“We call on the Governments of Gabon and India, as well as on the company concerned, to urgently investigate and address the situation.”

The experts recalled that, in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, all companies should respect human rights throughout their operations, while States have a duty to protect against business-related human rights abuse. As the host State of the GSEZ, Gabon must protect individuals against human rights abuse within its territory, by taking steps to investigate, punish and redress such abuse. As the home State of the company concerned, India should set out clearly the expectation that companies domiciled in its territory and jurisdiction respect human rights throughout their operations.

The experts also stressed that the use of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) needs to be aligned with international human rights standards. SEZs are widely used by many countries as part of a strategy to attract foreign investment and accelerate economic development. Civil society organisations, trade unions and international human rights bodies have regularly stressed that the race to attract foreign investment through SEZs must not come at the expense of lowering standards concerning human rights, labour rights and the environmental. The experts noted that the State duty to protect human rights applies when they act as an economic actor to establish SEZs.

“States should work together to ensure that SEZs do not end up becoming black holes for human rights abuses by businesses. Rather, these special zones should be developed as a model of sustainable business in line with international human rights standards”, said Surya Deva, Chairperson of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights.

The experts have also been in contact with the company and with the Governments of Gabon and India regarding their concerns.


* The UN experts: Mr. Surya Deva (Chairperson), Ms. Elżbieta Karska (Vice-Chairperson), Mr. Githu Muigai, Mr. Dante Pesce, and Ms. Anita Ramasastry, Members of the UN Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, Mr. Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants;Ms. Urmila Bhoola, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences; Ms. Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children.

Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups 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 organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

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