Over the course of the negotiation, most commitment have been substantially reduced. First and foremost, the commitment to ratify and implement relevant international instruments was scaled down to encourage and then promote such ratification and implementation. This is a significant change since the final text does not create any new legal obligation, yet only a political commitment. While international conventions related to fair recruitment and decent work should be at the centre of the Compact, States fail to live up to expectations. Regarding soft law instruments, the final draft no longer refers to the promotion of their operationalisation and implement but simply to the need to take them into consideration when developing and improving national policies and programmes. Again, the final commitment is softer than initial one.
Another significant change relates to the practice of tying work visas to a single employer or sponsor which is found in many immigration countries. As the zero draft rightly pointed out, such practice should end in order to prevent violations of human rights and promote opportunities for decent work. As researches have shown (Dauvergne 2016; Nakache and Kinoshita 2010), work permits tied to one employer is an obstacle to rights enforcement as migrant workers very often do not claim their rights for fear of losing their jobs. Such practice thus increases the risk of abuses and exploitation. As early as the zero draft plus, the initial commitment was substantially changed into ensuring recruitment processes that result in work visas that are portable, allowing migrants to change employers, and modifiable, allowing them to change conditions or lengths of stay, with minimal administrative processes. The final draft only refers to the development and strengthening of such recruitment processes. This means that work visas tied to a single employer or sponsor can be maintained, although change in employer and visas renewal should be facilitated. As a result, the final obligation is softer for ending the practice of single-employer work visas is no longer mentioned and change in employer remains under administrative discretion.
While equal labour rights remains an important commitment throughout the revision process, the relevant paragraph does not explicitly refers to migrant workers in an irregular situation. The suppression of the reference to all migrant workers suggests that the paragraph is only concerned with regular migrant workers. Over the course of the negotiation, a new paragraph was added to deal specifically with migrant workers in the informal economy. In the zero draft, the establishment of firewall with labour inspections in case of exploitation was explicitly mentioned. While States commit to offer them safe access to effective complaint and redress mechanisms and allow them to participate in legal proceedings whether in the country of origin or destination, there is no longer any reference to firewalls. However, the establishment of firewalls is a powerful measure to encourage migrant workers to claim their rights (Crépeau and Hastie 2015). Otherwise, they may not take the risk to file a complaint, be it effective.
In order to enhance supply chain transparency with regard to decent work conditions, the zero draft stressed the importance to hold all stakeholders, such as employers, recruiters and subcontractors, accountable for any involvement in human and labour rights violations. Throughout the negotiations, the language used in that paragraph was changed. The stress is no longer on accountability but rather on cooperation with all stakeholders and building partnerships to help them meet their responsibilities. In the meantime, national laws sanctioning human and labour rights violations must be implemented. Overall, this change is positive in the sense that it does not only focus on repression but also, in a complementary manner, on cooperation with employers and stakeholders who may not always be aware of their responsibilities.
Regarding the prohibition to confiscate travel and identity documents, as well as work contracts from a migrant, the second revision of the draft added the words ‘non-consensual retention’. For the rest, the paragraph remains similar in content. Yet, the prohibition should be absolute. Reference to non-consensual retention implies that consensual retention need not be prohibited. In a work context, and particularly when migrants are involved, consent should be treated with caution. An absolute prohibition, like that of the zero draft, is a better safeguard against abuse and exploitation.