Migrant Workers and Rights in a Global Justice Perspective: between Ideal and Non-Ideal Theory

May 19, 2022 - May 20, 2022
Institute of Philosophy, KU Leuven, Belgium

Kardinaal Mercierplein 2
Leuven 3000

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Goethe University Frankfurt

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Submission deadline: December 20th, 2021

Labor migration is widely recognized as an effective tool to reduce global poverty and inequality. However, migrant workers' integration into foreign labor markets is not without its challenges. From a normative standpoint, one of the more salient challenges lies in working out ways to maximize the justice-enhancing potential of labor migration while minimizing the adverse effects that this can have on domestic and migrant workers. These adverse effects follow from the fact that boosting labor migration seems possible by limiting migrant workers' rights in the host society – i.e., the numbers vs. rights trade-off. Therefore, the expansion of labor migration to its maximum potential creates a number of inescapable trade-offs, such as that between prospective migrants' economic benefits and the vulnerability they would face if their rights were extensively differentiated or, at the EU level, that between posted workers' economic benefits and the adverse effects of posted work's social dumping on domestic workers produced.

Philosophers have taken diverging normative stances towards the challenges of labor migration. Some, strongly concerned with the damaging effects that rights differentiation can have on the democratic ethos of society, oppose rights differentiation. Conversely, others support extensive rights differentiation based on the justice-enhancing potential of labor migration and the agency-enhancing effects migration offers to migrant workers. This baffling disagreement between liberal egalitarians is partly substantiated by a disagreement in their understanding of the role empirical facts, social practices, and feasibility conditions should play in our normative theorizing. Nonetheless, this methodological discussion has not been part of the normative debate on labor migration and its role in the global justice agenda. Hence, this workshop takes stock and debates the different ideal and non-ideal theory approaches to the topic.

We invite submissions from all related academic fields, including political and moral philosophy, political theory, legal theory, and social theory. Possible topics include:

  • Labor migration and the numbers vs. rights trade-off: is the rights vs. numbers trade-off morally relevant in theorizing labor migration justice?
  • Different forms of labor migration (old and new): how are different forms of labor migration (e.g., temporary labor migration, circular migration, posted workers) affected by rights differentiation?
  • Labor migration and feasibility constraints: how feasible should a theory of labor migration justice be?
  • Labor migration in a global context: do different normative constraints apply in theorizing labor migration justice in the South-South and South-North context?
  • The burdens of labor migration: how should the burdens of rights differentiation be distributed between (prospective) migrant workers and domestic workers?
  • Value trade-off in labor migration justice: how to assess the trade-off between democratic equality and global distributive justice?
  • Labor migration and States: what responsibilities, if any, do sending states have toward migrant workers? What are the responsibilities of receiving states toward migrant workers? 
  • Labor migration and non-state actors: what responsibilities do employers and recruitment agencies have towards migrant workers?
  • Labor migration and international law: are the recent developments in international law (e.g., the GCM) solid grounds for non-ideal theorizing of labor migration justice?

This list is non-exhaustive, and submissions on related topics are welcome.

Confirmed speakers:

Rainer Bauböck

Valeria Ottonelli

Andrea Sangiovanni

Anna Stilz

Christine Straehle

We have space for three more external speakers on our program. If you are interested in participating in this expert workshop, please submit an anonymized abstract of no more than 500 words, along with an email including your name, title, and affiliation to [email protected] The format of this particular panel is pre-read. Abstracts should therefore developed into a full paper. Participants will be asked to give a brief (5-10 min) presentation of their paper as part of the 1-hour discussion session of their work. The deadline for submission is December 20th, 2021. Notification of acceptance will be provided by February 15th .

Key dates

  • Abstracts submission deadline: December 20th, 2021
  • Notification sent to participants: February 15th, 2022
  • Final submission of papers: May 9th, 2022
  • Workshops: May 19th-20th, 2022

If you have any questions regarding the workshop, please contact the organizer, Mario Cunningham, at [email protected]

This workshop is organized as part of the “Justice and Migration” project, funded by KU Leuven.

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