Protecting migrant workers in the Gulf: don’t build back better over a poor foundation

By Vani Saraswathi, Editor-at-Large and Director of Projects, Migrant-Rights.Org

The Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) states need to completely revamp past policies, and not merely attempt to bridge gaps or provide a salve to deep wounds.

Construction workers in Dubai, UAE. Photo: LongJon / Shutterstock

As of February 2020, millions of migrants –– primarily from South and Southeast Asia and increasingly from East African countries –– were holding up Gulf economies, working in sectors and for wages unappealing to the more affluent citizens. In countries with per capita GDP of US$62,000 or more, minimum wages ranged as low as US$200 per month.

Men were packed into portacabins and decrepit buildings, six to a room if lucky, hidden behind screens of dust and grime, away from the smart buildings they built and shiny glasses they cleaned. The women were trapped 24/7 in homes that are their workplaces, every movement monitored. It is accepted and normalised without question that these men and women will leave behind their families in the hopes of building a better future for themselves. That they may live all their productive life in a strange country, excluded from social security benefits and denied all rights of belonging, is seen as a small price to pay for the supposed fiscal benefits. The fact that the price is too steep is rarely discussed.

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Three root causes of violence against women and how to tackle them

By Hyeshin Park, Gender Programme Co-ordinator and Gabrielle Woleske, Policy Analyst, OECD Development Centre

Every day, 137 women are killed by their partner or a family member. And one in three women worldwide have experienced intimate partner violence (IPV) in their lifetime. While violence against women remains a persistent, global problem, many continue to view it only as an individualistic issue or the actions of “some bad men”. However the widespread nature of the problem indicates that violence against women is also a collective, social problem, rooted in the widely-held social norms surrounding masculinities – socially constructed notions about how men behave and importantly, are expected to behave in specific settings to be considered ‘real’ men. To understand why some men perpetrate violence against women and to end it, we must uncover and address the drivers that lead to such behaviour and move beyond the discourse that simply attributes it to the individual actions of “some bad men”.

Driver 1: The norm that ‘real’ men are breadwinners

Masculine norms are diverse and can be harmful and restrictive – like those associated with “toxic masculinity” – or gender-equitable and flexible. The critical issue is that some masculinities promote very rigid understandings of what it means to be a ‘real’ man, thus putting pressure on men and boys to live up to the ideals of a socially constructed idea of manhood. Indeed, the men who accept and internalise these norms are more likely to commit violent acts1. One such ideal is that ‘real’ men have to be breadwinners and financial providers for their family. In fact, this is one of the strongest and most universal social expectations that societies have for men. Data from EU-28 countries shows that in 2017, 43% of respondents declared that the most important role of a man is to earn money, and up to 80% said so in Bulgaria for example. Moreover, in 2016 in Azerbaijan, a majority of men declared that a man who does not have an income is of no value.

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Inequalities and international migration: securing benefits for all post COVID-19

By Jason Gagnon, Development economist, OECD Development Centre

Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, May 2020. Indian migrant laborers leaving the the city due to lockdown. Photo: Mukesh Kumar Jwala / Shutterstock

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned international migration on its head. According to the United Nations, there were 272 million international migrants in the world in 2019, reflecting a steady rise over the years, reaching 3.5% of the global population. However, since the start of the crisis, migration has decreased significantly. Due to restrictions, admission of foreigners to OECD countries has fallen by 46%. In the Gulf Co-operation Council countries, and many other parts of the world, the trends point in the same direction. The general fall in migration flows is likely to continue in 2021.

There have been countless takes on the disproportionate impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on migrants. The pandemic has also exposed the extent to which many countries heavily rely on migrants as core cogs in their economic engines, their food security and in filling skills gaps. Not to mention the intangible cultural goods that societies benefit from in all parts of society, through food, festivals and art. But how will COVID-19 impact the future of international migration?

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Our top 10 blogs of 2020!

In 2020 we posted 179 blogs! Here are the top 10 most read blogs of the year:


1. Landmark Supreme Court victory in Zambia: collecting millions in tax revenues and sending a message across borders

By Ignatius Mvula, Assistant Director – Mining Audit Unit, Zambia Revenue Authority, Mary Baine, Director – Tax Programmes, African Tax Administration Forum, and Ben Dickinson, Head of the Global Relations and Development Division, Centre for Tax Policy and Administration, OECD

The authors explain why a landmark Supreme Court victory in Zambia sends a message that African tax authorities are able and confident to take on and deal with complex transfer pricing transactions.

In French: Victoire historique devant la Cour suprême en Zambie : des milliards de dollars US en recettes fiscales supplémentaires et un message par-delà les frontières

2. COVID-19: consequences for international migration and development

Immigration-coronavirus

By Jason Gagnon, Development economist, OECD Development Centre

Jason Gagnon discusses how to minimise the short-term effects of the Covid-19 crisis on migrants and leverage the crisis to address the unfinished business of international co-operation on migration.

In French: COVID-19 : conséquences pour les migrations internationales et le développement

3. How China is implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash

By Xiheng Jiang, Vice-President of China Center for International Knowledge on Development (CIKD)

Xiheng Jiang discusses the key points of China’s Progress Report on Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2019).


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Reforming industrial subsidies usage through the WTO: process proposals

By Professor Peter Draper, Executive Director and Dr Naoise McDonagh, Lecturer, Institute for International Trade, The University of Adelaide

The distorting effects of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and industrial subsidies on global market competition has become a topic of increasing importance for many World Trade Organization (WTO) members in recent years. There is growing pressure from key actors for WTO reform. The U.S., EU and Japan have jointly outlined a reform agenda for the WTO’s Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (ASCM)1 , focusing on market distorting effects of state capitalism. China has offered a different reform agenda that seeks greater recognition of the role of subsidies in pursuing legitimate social and development goals, as outlined in a recent WTO communication. Subsidy usage is therefore a key development issue.

A lack of reform may lead to growing use of subsidies by developed and advanced developing countries with deep pockets in ways that ultimately widen the economic gap between countries. This is because many developing economies will not have the capacity to leverage subsidies to build their industrial bases.

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Can civil society survive COVID-19?

By Elly Page, Senior Legal Advisor, International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) and Simona Ognenovska, Research and Monitoring Advisor, European Center for Not-for-Profit Law Stichting (ECNL)

As the world confronts new waves of COVID-19 cases, civil society should be wary of a parallel surge of new emergency laws and measures that restrict fundamental freedoms. According to our COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker, 146 countries enacted 385 measures in response to the pandemic that affected human rights, during the initial waves of the virus from January to September 2020. While some may have been a necessary and understandable reaction to a public health crisis, many overreached, exacerbating existing challenges to civic space. In particular, existing barriers to foreign funding for organisations have remained in place during the pandemic, limiting their ability to provide support to vulnerable populations during the crisis. The onslaught urgently requires an international response to roll back restrictions and increase support for embattled civil society.  

Our Tracker, based on information from our worldwide network of civil society partners, reflects ways that governments’ responses to COVID-19 have affected civic space, and suggests ways that OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) members could respond. These suggestions are timely as the OECD-DAC takes further steps to develop a DAC policy instrument on enabling civil society.

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Why we need radical democratic innovation post-COVID

By Silvia Cervellini, Founder and Co-ordinator of coletivo Delibera Brasil

Although we have talked about inequality and sustainability in Brazil for a long time (we held the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992 and the first World Social Forum in 2001 in Porto Alegre), the COVID-19 pandemic struck us in the middle of a “quasi” economic crisis, a declining Gini Index and increasing evidence of biomass destruction in Brazil’s Pantanal, Mata Atlântica and Amazonia forests.1

We have seen some consensual and immediate solutions to the different crises Brazil faces, e.g. quarantine and extra resources allocated to public health to fight the sanitary crisis; temporary financial support and food for the most vulnerable to tackle the hunger crisis; and firefighting to extinguish fires in the jungle. None of these measures, however, address the root causes of these problems, nor can they be sustained as permanent policies.

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Gaps in the trap: Neglected politics in middle-income trap analysis

By Richard F. Doner, Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Science, Emory University1


Scholars, advisors and policymakers alike have paid extensive attention to the middle-income trap. Despite some differences in definition, most agree that the “trap” refers to various conditions that have discouraged many middle-income countries from ascending to high-income status. Cross-national economic convergence has been nowhere near what was expected given middle-income countries’ access to advanced technologies and market opportunities.

Explanations for the trap vary but typically include some combination of low productivity, inconsistent macroeconomic policies, weak institutional frameworks, policies ill-adapted to promoting technology absorption, and weak human resource development. As a recent post by Alonso and Ocampo argues, these writings have been valuable in focusing attention on the challenges of a particular stage of development. Nevertheless, gaps, we might even call them blind spots, persist in analysis of the middle-income trap.   

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Regional integration does not ensure production in value chains

By Renato Baumann, Co-ordinator, International Co-operation, IPEA, Brazil

Developing economies often face a common challenge: after a period of rapid growth they experience a slowdown in both growth and productivity, falling into what has come to be known as the ‘middle-income trap’. Signing preferential trade agreements and participating in global value chains are two common recommendations presented to countries facing the middle-income trap, and are often seen as intertwining processes. Moreover, regional integration is gaining momentum as an enabler of value chains. However, although regional movement of goods facilitated by regional integration might be necessary, it is not the only condition to ensure production in value chains.

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A new social contract for informal workers: Bridging social protection and economic inclusion

By Martha Chen, Senior Advisor, WIEGO and Lecturer in Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School, Laura Alfers, Director, Social Protection, WIEGO and Research Associate, Rhodes University, and Sophie Plagerson, Visiting Associate Professor, Centre for Social Development in Africa, University of Johannesburg

Photo by Martha Chen

Calls to renew the social contract have proliferated in recent years as the “standard” employer-employee relationship has ceased to be the norm, while traditional forms of informal employment persist and informalisation of once formal jobs is on the rise.1 However, there is a mismatch globally between traditional social contract models based on assumptions of full (male and formal) employment and the world of work today in which informal workers, both self- and wage employed, constitute over 60 per cent of the global workforce. Can the call for a new social contract really help to achieve greater recognition and a more level playing field for informal workers?

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