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Mauritius weeds out bonded labor from apparel industry

Mauritius may have a reputation as a tropical paradise, but for thousands of migrants working in its factories, it represents a limbo of debt and bonded labor. Many arrive from Bangladesh, attracted by the promise of a decent job so that they can send money home to their families. But the reality is that they end up trapped for months, even years, working to repay the huge fees charged by unscrupulous recruitment agents just to secure their job abroad.

Now Mauritius and Bangladesh are negotiating an agreement that should help to put an end to this kind of practice once and for all. These efforts are starting to bear fruit. A number of suppliers in Mauritius have already changed their recruitment policies and practices. In some cases, debts owed by migrant workers have been repaid to free them from bonded labor.

The apparel and textile industry is big business for Mauritius, but it is heavily reliant on migrant workers, the majority coming from Bangladesh, with others from Madagascar, India and Sri Lanka. This reliance on migrant labor without due oversight of the recruitment process has made it a high-risk country for modern slavery. Mauritian trade unions are starting to build alliances with Bangladesh unions so that workers can better understand their rights before they leave.