Regulating Recruitment: Migration, Criminalization, and Compounded Informality

Shikha Silliman Bhattacharjee

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Across the globe, migrant workers are increasingly concentrated in temporary employment, including contract, short-term, and contingent work. These short-term employment stints require them to find new work on a regular and ongoing basis. How can legal frameworks encourage recruitment practices that protect the interests of both workers and employers in informal markets? My answer to this question is rooted in empirical investigation of how migrant women in India move between temporary jobs in garment and domestic work. It is based on 254 interviews and sixty-three focus group discussions with migrant women and recruitment intermediaries across five states. This case selection facilitates analysis of recruitment pathways in context of extremely high levels of informality and draws together insights from deregulated industrial and unregulated domestic work. By focusing on the experiences of migrant women from Scheduled Castes and Tribes, I direct attention to how gender and social identity articulate with labor market conditions and labor supply chains. Grounded in this empirical study, I argue that regulatory approaches that selectively regulate labor recruitment by criminalizing traffickers misunderstand the critical functions many recruitment intermediaries play in matching workers to employers in high-turnover labor contexts. Laws and policies that criminalize trafficking without protecting the legitimate functions of recruitment intermediaries provide incentives for recruitment actors to side-step regulation. At the nexus of informal workplaces and informal recruitment practices, migrant women workers are outside the boundaries of legal protection during migration and employment. In short, criminalization compounds informality, exposing workers to further labor exploitation and violence. Accordingly, this article calls for legal approaches that regulate the full spectrum of recruitment intermediaries, incentivize registration, and promote transparent, accountable, and predictable recruitment practices.
Original languageEnglish
JournalUniversity of Pennsylvania Asian Law Review
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)217-274
Number of pages58
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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