Labour Rights


Despite the presence of national labour laws, labour standards in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) remain lax. When taking into account their types of work and migration statuses, migrant workers continue to be at particularly elevated risk of mistreatment and abusive practices. The experiences of migrant workers show that they do not consistently enjoy the same rights and access to entitlements as nationals of destination countries would. When violations take place, migrants have little recourse to justice, either while they are abroad or once they return home.

A worker at a factory in Yangon, Myanmar (Photo: MMN/ John Hulme)

MMN believes that all workers deserve decent work, a living wage, and equal rights and access to benefits, regardless of their nationality, race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation.

To realise this vision, MMN’s previous research has looked extensively into national labour rights laws and regulations in the GMS, as well as the experiences of workers (including migrants) across different employment sectors. Based on these findings, MMN brings attention to existing gaps in laws and policies and advocates with governments of destination countries and countries of origin, employers, investors, and other relevant stakeholders to improve and enforce rights-respecting measures. 

For a more in-depth understanding of working conditions in specific employment sectors, please refer to the webpages on Migrants in Agriculture, Migrants in Fishery and Special Economic Zones.

Related Initiatives

As part of our mandate, MMN regularly facilitates discussion amongst our member organisations and partners to identify issues of concern currently facing migrant workers and their families. In particular, we seek to focus on issues that, for whatever reason, may have been overlooked, under-researched or are otherwise in need of greater outreach and advocacy. The exploitation of migrants employed in Thailand’s large agricultural sector is such an issue.

While MMN’s previous work has touched upon some of the problems faced by migrants in this sector, including low pay, lack of legal protection, and lax occupational health and safety, MMN members agreed that a more targeted investigation was necessary to better understand the needs of migrants in agriculture and identify appropriate responses…

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Special economic zone (SEZ) development in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) has been expanding in recent years. Designed to capture foreign investment and accelerate regional economic integration, three SEZs were being established in Myanmar at the time of writing, along with roughly 30 in Cambodia, 10 in Thailand, and over 30 in other GMS countries. 

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Beginning in 2012, MMN’s Bottom of ASEAN project investigated the situation of workers in Burma/Myanmar, Cambodia, and Lao PDR, as ‘last frontier economies’ in the region. Poor labour standards and extremely low wages cause many workers from these developing economies to migrate to neighbouring countries. Once they migrate, they frequently suffer further exploitation and discrimination which is often justified by policy-makers and the business sectors as “better than the situation in the countries of origin”.

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Restricted Rights is a report commissioned by UK-based NGO War on Want, and presents the findings from a series of in-depth interviews with migrant women employed in the garment and electronic industry supply chains in three ASEAN countries. Research was carried out by the Asian Migrant Centre, in collaboration with the MAP Foundation, Legal Support for Children and Women, Workers’ Hub for Change, Burma Campaign–Malaysia and the Mekong Migration Network…

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The idea for From our Eyes: Migrant Reflection was born at the workshop on Migration Trends and Responses in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) and Beyond, held on 31 August 2010 in Chiang Mai, and co-organised by MMN, MAP Foundation, and the Asian Migrant Centre. At the workshop, two migrant worker leaders presented on the impacts of policy changes on migrant lives. Their reflections were insightful and informative, and highlighted the largely untapped value of migrant contributions to policy making.

Inspired by the presentations of the migrant leaders, MMN, in collaboration with members of the migrant community, decided to conduct this initiative to record further analyses and perspectives of migrants on changes over the past decade…

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Despite migrant workers being the backbone of economic and social development in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), they are denied many essential rights, benefits, and labour protections. In order to formulate coherent responses, collaboration across borders and sectors, including with workers, is crucial. This has been hindered at times by a lack of common understanding of the issues and relevant terminologies among state and non-state actors, due to both language barriers and differing perspectives on migration issues.

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Resource Hub

Legally Binding Online Tool

You will be redirected to the MMN Legally Binding online tool developed in 2011, which contains a summary of national labour laws in the Greater Mekong Subregion.

Speaking of Migration Online Tool

You will be redirected to our Speaking of Migration online tool webpage developed in 2011, which contains explanations of key terms related to migration as well as terms to avoid.