UNSW Law’s Bassina Farbenblum has been awarded a substantial grant from George Soros’ Open Society Foundations to undertake the first global study of digital technology initiatives intended to improve migrant worker protection and access to justice. The study, in collaboration with Laurie Berg (UTS Law), will explore the ways in which technology is being mobilised to transform the labour migration landscape and the host of risks and challenges that it brings.

Digital technology offers the promise to fill information gaps and empower workers in new and previously uncontemplated ways. Technological initiatives aiming to capture “worker voice” have flourished in recent years. These include provision of information by migrant workers to businesses within supply chains, consumer reporting platforms that pool data on migrants’ experiences with recruitment agencies, apps which capture worker complaints and provide targeted information, referrals to support services, and technological innovations to assist evidence-gathering and legal claims-making. Apps and digital platforms have also emerged to promote safe migration by providing verifiable payment systems and recruitment processes for migrant workers.

The outcomes of many of these early stage initiatives have not yet been fully assessed. Farbenblum and Berg’s study will consider how effectively digital platforms are mitigating the problems encountered by migrants. It will focus on a number of key emerging issues, including individual outcomes for workers, protections for workers who use the technology (e.g. privacy, data security, and informed consent), platform design, resourcing, and legal and other risks to platform hosts.

The study will culminate in a public report and global forum in London in 2018. These are intended to catalyse a more informed, rigorous and migrant-centred approach to the development of digital interventions by NGOs, states, business, unions and donors globally. Further information is available at the Migrant Worker Justice Initiative website.