The government maintained some efforts to prevent trafficking, but did not adequately address the issue of high recruitment fees. The government continued to allow the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA) to set recruitment fees sufficiently high to render many migrant workers indebted and vulnerable to trafficking. The 2013 Overseas Employment and Migrants Act prohibits fraudulent recruitment and unlawful recruitment fees, and outlines procedures through which Bangladeshi migrant workers, originally hired through the Bureau for Manpower, Education, and Training, could lodge complaints with MEWOE upon their return to Bangladesh and seek government arbitration for labor and recruitment violations, including allegations of forced labor. MEWOE reported 165 complaints were settled during 2016; it is unknown if any of these complaints involved forced labor. MEWOE suspended 13 recruitment agencies’ licenses in 2016 for false advertising and charging fees above the legal maximum and referred three cases to the police for prosecution. The government initiated 229 cases against illegally operating dalals, unregulated sub-agents who operate in rural locations and connect prospective migrant workers to licensed employment agencies.
The government continued to use a number of bilateral labor agreements, in part intended to try to protect Bangladeshi workers abroad. For example, the government continued to use a bilateral labor agreement with Saudi Arabia for female migrant workers that mandated employers cover travel costs and domestic workers be employed by a third party rather than the private households in which they work, but the agreement did not stipulate the maximum cost or eliminate the processing fee charged to the migrant by recruitment agencies. During the reporting period, Saudi Arabia lifted its seven-year ban on male Bangladeshi migrant workers and Bangladeshi females performing any job other than domestic work; MEWOE set the maximum recruitment cost for migrant workers to Saudi Arabia at 165,000 BDT ($2,090), although media reported dalals charged intending migrant workers three to four times that amount. In February 2017, the governments of Bangladesh and Malaysia began to implement an inter-governmental agreement signed in the previous reporting period to facilitate the migration of Bangladeshi workers to Malaysia. The agreement aimed to mitigate the impact of private recruitment agencies’ high fees and sometimes unscrupulous practices for an initial 5,300 Bangladeshi workers by removing agents from the migration process. The government continued to require pre-departure training, including safe migration and anti-trafficking components, for some migrant workers, including a 30-day pre-departure training course for female domestic workers which focused on learning practical skills and included modules on trafficking awareness and self-protection.
In June 2016, the MHA, along with other agencies and NGOs, created an implementation roadmap for the 2015-2017 national action plan, launched in the previous reporting period. MHA published its annual report on human trafficking. Some district- and sub-district level counter-trafficking committees allocated funding for coordination and victim support while others were not functioning. The government continued to conduct awareness campaigns, at times in partnership with NGOs. In October 2016, the government passed the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act, placing stricter control over the foreign funding of NGOs and enacting punitive provisions for those NGOs that make “derogatory” comments regarding the constitution of the country, its founding history, or constitutional bodies (i.e., government institutions and leaders). International NGOs that assist Rohingya refugees and work with organized labor reported difficulties in meeting stringent government administrative requirements in order to carry out programs protecting vulnerable populations from various forms of exploitation. In May 2016, the government initiated a census of undocumented Rohingya and stated its intent to distribute information cards to participants that would provide protection and improve access to basic services and work opportunities; at the end of the reporting period, the government had not yet released the results of the census and had since re-initiated the census to include the Rohingya who fled Burma towards the end of 2016. The government trained military personnel to recognize and prevent trafficking in persons prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions and provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor. Bangladesh is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.