Publication of issue 21 'COVID-19: Labour, Migration, and Exploitation'


Guest editor: Annalee Lepp

Editor: Borislav Gerasimov


The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted all aspects of socioeconomic life, with particularly devastating consequences for low-wage, internal, and cross-border migrant workers. As the world moves on from the pandemic, what do we know now about these consequences? What lessons have we learnt and what policy changes are needed to prevent more suffering during future crises? These are some of the questions explored in the new Special Issue of Anti-Trafficking Review.

The first five articles, by Laurie Berg and Bassina Farbenblum; Lola Abdukadyrova and Olga Studenko; Yvonne Su; Angelo Martins Jr, Larissa Brito, and Thiago Pizzo Scatena; and Seun Bamidele, present new empirical research on the experiences of different groups of migrants during the pandemic. These include, respectively: temporary migrant workers in Australia, Kyrgyz women working in Russia, Venezuelan LGBTQ+ asylum seekers in Brazil, internal migrant sex workers in Brazil, and sex workers in a camp for Internally Displaced Persons in Nigeria. Across these diverse situations and contexts, migrants described loss of work and income, lack of access to social protections and affordable healthcare, gender-based violence, fear of homelessness, inability to remit money to their families, and deteriorating mental health. The situation was particularly difficult for undocumented migrants, informal workers, and gender-diverse individuals.

The next two articles examine the perspectives of NGOs and other professionals on the effects of COVID-19. Muiread Murphy investigates  the pandemic’s impact on victims and survivors of human trafficking for labour exploitation based on the experience of professionals working with them. Her interviewees, from 23 European countries, highlighted the challenges they faced in identifying and supporting survivors due to reduced capacities and the limitations on professional duties brought on by lockdowns and other restrictions. Corinne Schwarz, Hannah Britton, Eden D. E. Nay, and Christie Holland analyse the COVID-19-related messaging produced by anti-trafficking and sex workers’ rights NGOs in the first months of the pandemic. They find that while some organisations called attention to structural root causes and macro-level harms, and the need to address these through collective action, others positioned themselves as ‘essential workers’ and heroic rescuers.

The issue concludes with two short articles that focus on the work of NGOs providing services to sex workers and survivors of trafficking. Olaya García-Vázquez and Carmen Meneses-Falcón describe the challenges that women experienced during the pandemic it Italy, Spain, and Portugal—with migration documents, income, housing, social relationships and more—and how the NGO Hermanas Oblatas addressed these challenges. Mariah Grant highlights how sex workers in the United States were excluded from the government’s COVID-19 relief support and how her organisation, the Sex Workers Project, and other sex workers’ rights NGOs, mobilised funds from donors and the community to meet sex workers’ urgent needs.

Taken together, the articles in this Special Issue contribute to the growing body of research on the impacts of COVID-19 on migration, labour, and exploitation. They provide compelling evidence that temporary, migrant, low-wage, and informal workers bore the brunt of these impacts and were at the greatest risk of violence, homelessness, and exploitation, as well as infection with the virus and psychological distress. A common thread that runs through many of the articles is that these were caused by governments’ unwillingness to provide all people on their territory with support, such as unemployment benefits, financial aid for rent and utility bills, or free healthcare. All articles in the Special Issue conclude with recommendations for policy changes that would uphold the human rights of migrants now and in case of future crises.

View the new issue at