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Brokered discrimination for a fee: the incompatibility of domestic work placement agencies with rights-based global governance of migration

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In the past decade tackling ‘abusive recruitment’ has catapulted to the top of international migration governance agendas, largely in the slipstream of anti-trafficking advocacy. In this context, the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) aims to ‘facilitate fair and ethical recruitment’ while ‘safeguarding the conditions that ensure decent work’. However, recruiters’ responsibility for systemic and discriminatory racialised and gendered employment patterns remain largely ignored by policymakers, despite non-discrimination being a fundamental labour right. This paper responds by drawing on a qualitative research study conducted with migrant domestic worker placement agencies in Jordan, Lebanon, and Bangladesh between 2013 and 2015. The paper shows that agencies in Amman and Beirut deliberately recruited and supplied Bangladeshi women as the cheapest available domestic workers. I argue that such structural discrimination impacted on Bangladeshi women’s position in the labour market, including on their pay and ability to organise. The paper concludes that without tackling this issue, private sector recruitment will remain a substantial obstacle to the advancement of a rights-based and socially fair approach to the global regulation of worker migration.

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Availability of data and material

The transcripts are not publicly available. Limited material from the study was included in a report published by the ILO in 2015, For a Fee: The Business of Recruiting Women from Bangladesh into Jordan and Lebanon. Available at: The author, with co-authors Ms Leena Ksaifi and Prof. Colin Clark, have drafted a second journal article which utilises different data from this study and which is currently under consideration with a different journal.

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  1. Various terms are used to describe these actors. For consistency, the term ‘placement agency’ is used in this article to refer to the agencies based in Jordan and Lebanon which placed candidates with clients.


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I thank all our interviewees who gave up their time to participate in this research. I gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Ms Leena Ksaifi, Sk. Ali Ahmed, Ms. Alix Nasri and Professor Abul Barkat who participated in the fieldwork and the International Labour Organisation staff who supported the project. My sincere thanks to the editors of the Special Issue, Prof. Nicola Piper and Prof. Elspeth Guild, the editors of the journal, Prof. Colin Clark and the helpful and supportive comments of two anonymous reviewers.


International Labour Organisation funded the study.

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Correspondence to Katharine Jones.

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Approval was provided by ILO Headquarters and national offices. Approval was not sought through an academic Ethics Committee or IRB, since the author was not affiliated to a university at the point the research was conducted. The research was, however, conducted according to ESRC Framework for Research Ethics.

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Informed consent was received from all participants for anonymised data generated by the study to be published.

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Jones, K. Brokered discrimination for a fee: the incompatibility of domestic work placement agencies with rights-based global governance of migration. GPPG 1, 300–320 (2021).

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