Urgent action is required to assist and protect some 400 Vietnamese migrant workers who were allegedly trafficked to Serbia, experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council said on Friday.

Eight companies, including Vietnamese labour recruitment agencies and Chinese construction firms registered in Serbia, have reportedly been implicated in serious human rights abuses, they said, citing information received.

The experts have written to the businesses and are also in contact with authorities in the three countries.

Appalling conditions​

“We are deeply concerned that these migrant workers may have been trafficked for purposes of forced labour, and have been living and working in appalling conditions in Serbia, at serious risk to their lives and health,” they said in a statement.

They were also disturbed by allegations that civil society groups wanting to assist the workers have not been allowed access to them.

The experts urged the Governments of Serbia, Viet Nam and China to ensure that businesses based in their territory, or operating under their jurisdiction, respect the human rights of all workers.

“This includes not only the businesses who rely on migrant labour but also labour recruitment agencies,” they said.

Duty to protect​

Regulation and monitoring of labour recruitment agencies is also critical to effectively prevent trafficking for the purposes of forced labour, they added.

The experts reminded governments of their duty to protect against business-related human rights abuses.

Countries must also take appropriate steps to ensure victims have access to justice and effective remedies, and to ensure ongoing assistance and protection, including against forced return.

They also highlighted the obligations of businesses to exercise due diligence in ensuring that the rights of all workers are protected, without discrimination, recognising the particular needs and rights of migrant workers.

Independent experts​

The eight human rights experts who issued the statement receive their mandates from the UN Human Rights Council, located in Geneva.

They monitor and report on specific issues of global concern, which include trafficking in persons, contemporary forms of slavery, the human rights of migrants, and implementation of UN principles on business and human rights.

The experts operate in their individual capacity and are neither UN staff nor are they paid for their work.