LONDON — Businesses could cut the risk of human trafficking and exploitation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya in Bangladesh who have fled violence in Myanmar by giving them decent job opportunities, experts said on Wednesday.
Fighting in Myanmar’s Rakhine State has sent more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims, a minority group denied citizenship in Myanmar, over the border into Bangladesh since late August, in what the United Nations called “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
John Morrison of the Institute for Human Rights and Business said the refugees, mainly women and children, would likely end up working as cheap laborers in factories across Bangladesh.
“Cox’s Bazar is a very poor part of Bangladesh, what are they going to do to subsist?” Morrison said, after speaking at the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s annual two-day Trust Conference, which focuses on slavery and women’s rights issues.
“Many of them will be drawn into the black economy, some of them will be exploited by criminals. They will be exploited again unless proper job opportunities are created for them,” the London-based think-tank’s chief executive said.
Based on case studies, Morrison said Syrian refugees who have fled to Turkey ended up working for a pittance in factories supplying major Western brands.
“This could easily happen in the Bangladeshi textile sector as well,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Morrison said firms could protect the Rohingya from human trafficking by offering “meaningful work” and this task should not be left to the host country Bangladesh alone.
“Bangladesh is a very poor country,” he said. “There is a lot that the big companies here today and others could do to create economic opportunities.”
Asif Saleh from the Bangladesh-based development agency BRAC said the Rohingya were arriving in an area where traffickers were known to operate and cited a news report this week, which said women refugees were being sold for 5 British pounds.
He said Bangladesh’s “national denial” of the problem of human trafficking makes it harder to tackle the issue, which was closely linked to poverty.
“It’s … a social taboo. You can’t use words like slavery – the government will react very badly,” Saleh said, adding the problem was exacerbated by state corruption.
“Very powerful people at the very top are involved in this chain because it’s a lucrative market.”