Justice Without Borders
Justice Without Borders Summer Newsletter 2014 





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 J W B   S i n g a p o r e   R e s e a r c h   F e l l o w s   C h a r m a i n e   Y a p   a n d   M i s a   M i t s u g i

Welcome to the summer newsletter for Justice Without Borders, a.k.a. JWB. The first half of the year was very busy for our twelve member volunteer team of lawyers, law students, and support staff working in Singapore, Japan, the U.S. and Thailand. Together, we have added new segments to our international lifelines to legal aid. We identified and connected with service providers, law firms, and law schools in five countries. Our practitioner's manual for Singaporean lawyers representing clients abroad is almost finished, and we are about to embark on strategic support for cross-border cases with NGO partners in Singapore.  This work sets the stage for cross-border litigation on behalf of victims of labour exploitation and human trafficking, and brings us one step closer to achieving real 'Justice Without Borders' for all migrant workers in the region.


We of course cannot do this work alone, and we deeply appreciate the support of our partner and sponsoring organization Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia Clinical Legal Initiative, (BABSEA CLE), our student research fellows and faculty at the National University of Singapore Law School, and the dozens of lawyers and direct service providers across the region who are working together to ensure that all migrant workers can access aid, wherever they are.


Want to get involved? Contact JWB to learn how you can help. You can also invest in justice for all migrant workers. Support JWB with a donation today!


With many thanks,


Douglas MacLean, J.D.

Executive Director



In This Issue

JWB in Action - A look at our approach to justice for victims of exploitation and trafficking.


Updates from Across the Region - JWB's recent work in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, and Thailand.


Spotlight on Singapore - We focus on work in one of the most dynamic jurisdictions in the region, including:

  • STRATEGIC RESEARCH: A Roadmap to Remote Litigation. JWB-NUS Law Faculty strategic manual on bringing claims for damages on behalf of clients abroad.
  • CASEWORK: Collecting judgments after clients return home. JWB partners with Singaporean NGO to track down bad employers and brokers who refuse to pay.
  • FOCUS ON OUR FELLOWS: JWB legal research fellows at NUS Law Faculty discuss their work developing legal strategy for migrant workers returning home.

Volunteer highlights and acknowledgements - JWB is a volunteer-driven organization, and we could not achieve our mission without our volunteers working across the region!

Making Justice Without Borders A Reality for All
Justice Without Borders creates unbroken international lifelines to aid for exploited migrant workers seeking compensation against their abusers. We build networks of lawyers and service providers that cover the entire migration route so victims don't lose their rights to redress when they go home. Transnational litigation is challenging, and we identify the legal and logistical barriers to remote representation. Bringing a case on behalf of a client who is an ocean away is a daunting task, and we work to clear the way so that practitioners at both ends of the migration route can do their jobs and meet their clients' needs.   
Why Civil Litigation?

We focus on civil litigation, meaning workers go to court and seek damages against the employers and brokers who tricked them, abused them, or otherwise exploited them. While we fully support criminal action against these people and the companies they run, such action unfortunately rarely results in compensation. Victims often shoulder significant financial burdens back home, supporting their families, or paying off debts due to illness or other catastrophes. Add in the often expensive broker's fees at home and in the host country, and their debts can amount to several years of wages. Civil action is the quickest route to recovering money lost, wages owed, and damages for their suffering. Victims also call the shots in civil litigation: they decide whether to go forward, and whether to accept a settlement offer. This is very different from criminal proceedings, where victims have little control over what happens.  

A Unique Focus on Host Country Jurisdictions


JWB works to promote access to civil justice in the region's wealthy destinations, including Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong. These jurisdictions' strong legal systems make it easier and quicker to pursue civil litigation there. Unscrupulous employers and brokers in these countries usually are also most responsible for the suffering that migrant workers face. Holding them accountable in their own jurisdiction is the most effective way to make victims whole again and deter exploitive behavior.


Connecting With Home Country Stakeholders


While most of the legal action takes place in the host country, cases cannot continue without the victims themselves. They need the support of lawyers and local aid in their own community to remain engaged. Home country partners can keep victims updated on their case and explain each step in a way that is easy to understand. Successful partnerships will also allow evidence to flow two ways, enabling litigation in both the host and home country jurisdictions. Together, practitioners in home and home countries can successfully bring litigation and ensure that victims have their day in court, even if they are thousands of miles away.





JWB currently works in Thailand, Japan, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Singapore. Below are a few highlights from our work in these jurisdictions. See the following section for this issue's spotlight on Singapore.


Japan and Thailand
















Building a network of practice along the Japan-Thailand migration route.

Thailand is Japan's largest source country in the ASEAN region, with 440,000 Thais visiting Japan in 2013 alone. Among these are increasing numbers of migrant workers (who arrive with or without work permits) are those employed in restaurants, massage parlors and other parts of the service sector. In March, members of the Lawyering Network for Foreigners (LNF) and the Lawyer's Network for Foreign Trainees (LNFT) visited Bangkok to meet with potential partners who could support cases involving exploited Thai workers returning from Japan. JWB coordinated the visit, connecting these lawyers with the Friends of Women Foundation, the Foundation For Women, and international labour and anti-trafficking organizations. The trip was a success, and both sides are eager to begin work on helping exploited victims bring cases against their former employers. 


Hong Kong

Outreach to Hong Kong University, law firm and NGO stakeholders.

This fall, JWB will begin work with Hong Kong University students and faculty to develop a practitioner's manual for returning migrant workers that is similar to the one we are developing in Singapore. In May, JWB met with local NGOs, and both local and international law firms who support migrant workers in Hong Kong. These stakeholders will form our brain trust on making remote representation a reality, helping us plot out both the legal and the logistical hurdles that currently stand in the way of migrant workers' access to just compensation.



Connecting legal aid, and cases of exploited workers seeking help post-return

JWB staff visited Jakarta in April, meeting with the Tifa Foundation (a partner of the Open Society Foundation), Lembaga Bantuan Hukum Jakarta, (Jakarta Legal Aid Institute), local labour unions representing migrant workers, as well as international agencies focused on access to justice, including USAID, UNDP, ILO, and the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative.


Our biggest finding was the presence of so many exploited migrant workers who had not received aid while abroad, but who were intent on seeking it upon their return home. While we intended to find partners for our law partners in Singapore and Hong Kong, the legal aid agencies we met eagerly asked for partnerships in Hong Kong and Singapore. One labour union described multiple cases of Indonesian migrant workers returned from Hong Kong who had not been paid and/or had been abused. These individuals may still have viable claims in Hong Kong, and we look forward to working with partners in both countries to help launch these cases remotely.




stratrsrchStrategic Research

JWB Partners with National University of Singapore (NUS) to Develop

a Roadmap to Remote Representation



JWB Legal Research Fellows studying at NUS law school discuss legal strategy with NUS Law Professor Sheila Hayre as they develop JWB's Roadmap to Remote Representation


Singapore has one of the highest proportions of foreign workers in the region. As in nearly all host countries, some of the lowest-skilled workers fall prey to unscrupulous brokers and employers. Sadly, many victims cannot stay in Singapore long enough to pursue claims against these bad actors. That is where JWB steps in, helping practitioners in Singapore connect with partners in clients' home countries so that they may start or continue their cases from abroad.


Unfortunately, many service providers and pro bono lawyers who want to help these victims are faced with difficult, practical questions. What claims can victims pursue without having to return and appear in court? How do practitioners actually bring these cases in the client's absence? What legal and logistical hurdles stand between claims and compensation?


JWB and the NUS Law Faculty have partnered to answer these questions, and develop an easy to use practitioner's manual that explains the most relevant legal remedies, as well as how to overcome the many practical hurdles facing pro bono lawyers in Singapore. It will also help case workers at direct service organizations make initial assessments before engaging a lawyer.  Practitioners in victims' home countries can also use the manual to assess their clients' needs. As JWB has learned in Indonesia and Thailand, many victims do not realize they may have a potential claim until after they return home.


JWB's Legal Research Fellows have taken the lead in researching and gathering input for this important document. The work has involved interviews and feedback from over a dozen experts, including NGO case workers, pro bono lawyers and legal academics.


The practitioner's manual will be finished by late August and will be distributed to partners in Singapore and its relevant home countries. 


We would like to thank H.O.M.E., HealthServe, Transit Workers Count Too (TWC2), the Law Society of Singapore, and the many lawyers and law faculty who have helped to make our product a useful tool for all advocates!



Working with NGO partners on legal issues, identifying test cases for cross-border legal action


JWB is partnering with HealthServe, a Singaporean NGO that serves foreign construction workers and other migrant workers to identify test cases that involve viable legal claims by clients who must return home. HealthServe's years of work providing for the health and medical needs of this vulnerable population has shown that access to health and access to justice go hand in hand. Many of its clients complain of underpayment of wages, contract fraud, and even physical abuse. These patterns of exploitation have highlighted key legal issues that have not been answered in Singapore, as many workers opt to return home and not bring cases.


Working with teams of student Legal Research Fellows from NUS, along with supervising faculty and pro bono lawyers, JWB will begin addressing the legal issues needed to remotely provide access to redress. Our work will include:


  • Enforcing judgments for returnee clients: Some victims of exploitation settle their claims against employers through negotiation or through the government's Ministry of Manpower mediation process. Unfortunately, some employers fail to pay up, preferring to wait out the victim until they must return home. Our team and partners will map out the process for enforcing the judgment without the client present.
  • Taking contract, wage, and tort claims to civil court: Victims must remain in Singapore to use government-sponsored mediation channels. Civil court offers the chance for just compensation even from abroad. Unfortunately, relatively few cases have been brought via remote representation. Using JWB's practitioner's manual as a guide, we and our partners will identify viable test cases among HealthServe's client populations to establish good precedents for migrant workers and to obtain actual compensation for the clients involved.


Focus on our Fellows

JWB's researchers are also student leaders for migrant workers' access to justice in Singapore


JWB Legal Research Fellows are law students who are committed to helping victims of exploitation and human trafficking seek justice. They have been at the center of our work developing our practitioner's manual, and will play a key role in analyzing potential cases. During the spring semester, nearly seventeen NUS students took part in initial research, and included students from every class year. This summer, a core group of students, Wei Zhen Lim, Vu Lan Nguyen, Stephanie Teh, Misa Mitsugi, and Jayaraman Sanjana continued working with NUS faculty and professional lawyers in developing the product. We highlight three of the students in this issue.


Stephanie Teh




Year in school: Just graduated! I am now going to Cambodia to intern with the Asian International Justice Initiative. I will be a trial monitor for the Khmer Rouge Trials.


How did you get involved in migrant worker's access to justice?

As an idealist, I have always been interested in access to justice generally. Interest in migrant workers' access to justice began when I started pro bono initiatives and legal clinics. 


Area of research with JWB?

 General framework of migrant worker legal claims, but more specifically procedural law.  


Most interesting part of the work? Most challenging?

Understanding the difference between black letter law and the realities of accessing the law. The most challenging is that this involves understanding the law at a high level while having an empathy for real world practicalities. 


Favourite break from work?

 Dancing, TV shows and hanging out with friends 

Charmaine Yap


Year in school: 2nd year


How did you get involved in migrant worker's access to justice?

I did a 3-week internship in December 2013, with Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), a local NGO. I got a glimpse into the migrant worker community- a side of Singapore I had never known. I was startled by the egregious and rampant abuses that were occurring in this hidden community, in a country that prides itself on its strong rule of law. 


Area of research of JWB?

Contract law, tort law, and employment legislation.


Most interesting part of the work? Most challenging?

Looking at novel claims that migrant workers could bring. Usually, only practitioners do this, so it is very exciting that our work might help advance the law someday. 


Most challenging? Battling with crackly and temperamental Skype lines every meeting. Also challenging has been working around the entrenched practices of a system that is slow to change. The cause of the problem is often the power imbalance between worker and employer, which is inherent in the way foreign employment is organised in Singapore. Trying to correct this from outside the system is much more difficult. 


Favourite break from work?

I got really into reading horror novels over the summer, so that is what I now do when I have some time.  


Misa Mitsugi




Year in law school: Year 2.

How did you get involved in migrant workers' access to justice?

I learned about it through my involvement in planning the Migrant Workers Awareness Week (MWAW) 2014 at NUS. In all honesty, I decided to join the planning committee without really knowing what it was about, and it became a great learning experience for me. Before MWAW, I never really knew about migrant worker issues. It then motivated me to become involved in other similar projects. 

Area of research with JWB?
I have been focusing on procedural law.
What has been the most interesting part of the work? The most challenging?
Having meetings with a team that is spread out across several countries is a really interesting experience for me. I think it is amazing how we managed to meet up regularly and make such great progress despite the distance and time differences. The most challenging was working around everyone's schedules!


Favourite break from work?

Listening to J-pop and movie soundtracks. I also like drawing, especially people, clothing styles, such as textures and patterns.  


We could not accomplish our mission without the tireless work of our volunteers and supporters who live across the region. This issue we introduce a few of the people who contribute to JWB's work across the region.
Volunteer Highlights
As an organization that supports workers, we deeply appreciate and support those who donate their time and effort to our cause, including:

Elena Kelly is a retired finance manager from a US Fortune 500 company. She is our lead volunteer and helps with operations, communications and fundraising from our Chiang Mai headquarters. She is also a major donor, and the first individual donor to JWB when we began.



Akiyo Inoko-Hewitt is a young Japanese lawyer who was called to the bar in 2013. A long-time campaigner for indigenous peoples' rights, she has produced JWB's Japanese language materials, and has researched Thai-speaking service providers in Japan for our NGO partners in Thailand. 

Marieke Johnson is a 3rd year law student from Ohio Northern University. Marieke helped us develop our website and eagerly researched any issue we sent her way. She is back at school now and we wish her the best in her final year!

Special Acknowledgments 

Our work takes teamwork, and we are both proud to partner with and immensely grateful for the support of many organizations and individuals across the region and beyond. We would like to highlight a few of our special partners, and we thank the many more who make up the movement for international access to justice. This issue, we thank:

  • The Law Society of Singapore for their pro bono support in Singapore and helping JWB marshal the legal resources needed to help our shared constituents.

  • Our board members Karen Stauss, Lavinia Rajah, and Ryoko Minagawa, who help guide JWB. Our board meetings cross eleven different time zones!  

  • Finally, to our donors, who make our work possible. Thank you for investing in justice!


Invest in Justice

Join us in making justice without borders a reality for all migrant workers! Your monthly or one-time contribution will help us help victims of exploitation to hold their abusers accountable. As an investor, you will receive special updates on how your funds are empowering victims of exploitation to win just compensation from their abusers.


Join us today!