Migrant Workers

Why Should a Worker Pay for a Job?

10 January 2017

The Problem

Many migrant workers end up in debt bondage, sometimes for years, with the value of their remittances severely eroded.
 

We all know that global supply chains rely on low-waged workers. Migrant workers from poor areas travel overseas for employment to provide for their families. Developing economies count on remittances from their overseas workers to feed into national coffers, while local communities often rely on wages sent home from relatives to fund basic needs.

So why are so many of these workers ending up in debt bondage, sometimes for years, with the value of their remittances severely eroded? The answer is simple – workers are required to pay recruitment fees to labour brokers which they can’t pay off.

The solution is obvious – ban worker recruitment fees from global supply chains and ensure employers pay the costs of hiring workers.

    
The solution is obvious – ban worker recruitment fees from global supply chains and ensure employers pay the costs of hiring workers.

The ILO estimates there are currently around 21 million men, women and children in forced labour, trafficking and modern slavery. Forced labour in the private economy generates US$150 billion in illegal profits per year, of which $ 34 billion in construction, manufacturing, mining and utilities and US$ 9 billion in agriculture, including forestry and fishing. Almost no industry sector is exempt, but sub-contracted employment in, for example, the hospitality sector make estimates tricky.

Why are debt bondage, forced labour and human trafficking still so prevalent in today’s global economy? How is the exploitation of workers before they even arrive at their place of work such lucrative business for unscrupulous labour brokers and human traffickers?  

The Root

The problem lies in both the supply and demand ends of the equation.

On the supply side, Governments are failing to regulate properly or enforce legislation rigorously, leaving their migrant workers vulnerable to exploitative labour brokers and recruitment agents. Corruption and the nexus of political and commercial interests ratchet up the risks further.

Meanwhile on the demand side, few employers are exercising sufficient due diligence on how their workers are recruited. Big brands have too long relied on traditional workplace audits of their suppliers which, along with their many other failings seldom include recruitment practices and the situations of debt bondage workers find themselves in. Add to this the fact that disenfranchised migrant workers rarely have a collective voice to raise grievances or seek remedy, and therein lies the recipe for systemic abuse.

Interventions

Today IHRB and the Leadership Group launch the Responsible Recruitment Gateway www.employerpays.org, a platform and growing resource bank to help companies move towards an ethical recruitment model where no worker should pay for a job.

So what is being done to challenge the status quo?

Recent US and UK legislation requires greater transparency and accountability on steps companies are taking to eradicate modern slavery from their supply chains. The California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, the Federal Acquisition Regulation rules to strengthen protections against trafficking in persons in federal contracts, the UK Modern Slavery Act all represent significant progress. But are they enough to change the prevalent business model whereby migrant workers pay to get a job?

A handful of far-sighted companies have already embarked on this journey but their efforts remain isolated pockets of good practice.  To achieve the scale necessary to properly tackle the scourge of debt bondage and forced labour in the global economy, we need responsible business to step up and take a collective stand on modern slavery, calling on both their own suppliers and relevant governments to ban recruitment fees paid by workers and shift to an ‘Employer Pays’ model. 

Bold Leadership

The Leadership Group for Responsible Recruitment, convened by IHRB, brings together global brands with a bold vision to tackle forced labour: they are calling for the eradication of worker fees within a decade.

    
The Leadership Group for Responsible Recruitment, convened by IHRB, brings together global brands with a bold vision to tackle forced labour: they are calling for the eradication of worker fees within a decade.

IKEA, Coca-Cola, Unilever, HP Inc., Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Marks and Spencer and Walmart have joined forces with expert organisations IHRB, Verité, the International Organisation for Migration and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Citizenship, to lead action on three fronts:

  • create demand for responsible recruitment labour
  • increase supply of ethically sourced labour
  • advocate for improved protection for migrant workers

Encouragingly there are now a growing number of initiatives addressing responsible recruitment from various perspectives, all of which will push the needle in the right direction.

The EICC was the first manufacturing industry association to amend its code of conduct to include a ban on worker fees. The Consumer Goods Forum has recently followed suit and others need to step up. Alliance 8.7, led by the ILO, is catalysing collective action around forced labour in pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goal 8 on decent work and inclusive economic growth.  Verité’s Fair Hiring Toolkit, IOM’s International Recruitment Integrity System, and tech innovations for more transparent recruiting in Nepal under development by Humanity United are just a few of the creative solutions and valuable tools active in this space.

The Responsible Recruitment Gateway

Today IHRB and the Leadership Group launch the Responsible Recruitment Gateway www.employerpays.org, a platform and growing resource bank to help companies move towards an ethical recruitment model where no worker should pay for a job.

 

If you wish to post relevant information on the Responsible Recruitment Gateway, or find out more about the Leadership Group for Responsible Recruitment, please contact IHRB’s Migrant Workers Programme Manager Neill Wilkins.

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