Approximately 3.5% of the world's total population are migrants: 272 million in 2019. This number has continually increased over the past 25 years, from 2.8% in 1995 (174 million), and 3.2% in 2005 (221 million).2 Nearly two-thirds of these migrants seek economic opportunities such as better employment. While this strategy has benefited millions of internal and international migrants, booming markets and rapid urbanization have resulted in a constant demand for cheap labor, and in some instances, cases of forced labor and human trafficking.1 Computing technology has begun to play an increasingly critical role in every step of the migration journey, from pre-departure to transit to integration or return to one's home country. It might also be leveraged to play a role in enhancing the rights of migrants. This column presents four cross-cutting challenges to co-designing technologies for and alongside migrant communities, drawing on the experience of developing Apprise, a mobile phone application to support vulnerable migrant workers to report exploitative work practices.
Effective solutions cannot be generated by simply identifying surface-level symptoms of problems, but rather require a deep understanding of the multidimensional root causes (political, economic, and social) that enable these problems to continue. A participatory approach is necessary to break away from external notions of a community's needs and avoid the reoccurring issue of seeing technology as an instant fix for issues affecting development. By prioritizing community participation before design ideation, teams can work together to identify these underlying factors, resuiting in more people-centric rather than tech-centric solutions.
The Apprise project is an impressive and laudable effort. Everyone who was involved should be proud. I hope Apprise inspires similar projects. I would also like to help clarify the causes of poor working conditions for migrant workers.
In the first paragraph of this article, it says: [While this strategy has benefited millions of internal and international migrants, booming markets and rapid urbanization have resulted in a constant demand for cheap labor, and in some instances, cases of forced labor and human trafficking.] This statement would lead us to believe that booming markets and rapid urbanization are the primary cause of poor conditions for migrant workers. However, that is not the case.
I recommend reading the reference article for that statement because it gives a better explanation. In the reference article, there is the following: [Generally, these workers who move from low-income to middle- and high-income countries are searching for ways to provide for their families and to escape unemployment, war, or poverty in their countries of origin.] Thus, unemployment, war, and poverty in migrants' source countries are preconditions for worker migration along with booming markets and urbanized lifestyles in neighboring countries. After all, why would anyone risk forced labor and human trafficking unless they didn't have a better option? In other words, migrant workers seek the better quality of life and economic opportunities in countries that have booming markets and urbanization.
Tragically, there are also weak laws, lax enforcement, and immoral people in the host country that take advantage of the migrant workers. The Apprise project is an excellent example of how technology can be used to help improve working conditions for migrants in host countries. Additionally, international diplomacy could help stabilize conditions in source countries so that people need not take the risk of migrating to other countries.
For anyone who is interested in global economics and additional viewpoints on working conditions, I recommend the book Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell. From Chapter 12, page 239: [The economic effects of regulating working conditions are very similar to the effects of regulating wages, because better working conditions, like higher wage rates, tend to make a given job both more attractive to the workers and more costly to the employers.] If a country regulates working conditions and wage rates far above those of neighboring countries, what additional incentive does that create for migration and problems that come with it? International diplomacy would help stabilize conditions in source countries so that people need not take the risk of migrating to other countries. Perhaps international diplomacy should also be part of plans to regulate working conditions within a nation.
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