IOM Deputy Director General Laura Thompson met with representatives from business, government, trade unions and civil society organisations in London on Wednesday 4th May to discuss what has been called “modern slavery” and to launch a call to action for global corporations to eliminate unethical recruitment practices, including the charging of extortionate fees to migrant workers.
IOM joined HP Inc., Coca-Cola Company, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, IKEA and Unilever – along with the Institute for Human Rights & Business, Vérité and the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility – for the launch of the Leadership Group for Responsible Recruitment.
Among the core goals of this new initiative is the “Employer Pays Principle”, which states no worker should have to pay for his or her job. Instead, employers should pay for the recruitment and deployment costs of migrant workers. “Employer Pays” will be an important first step in protecting migrant workers by tackling the costs and fees that often erode workers’ salaries, or leave them at risk of exploitation and forced labour.
DDG Thompson emphasized that the benefits of labour migration are evident: labour mobility is desirable to ensure that labour and skills gaps are filled, while providing opportunities for workers across borders. However, unless measures are put into place to ensure that migrant workers are protected from exploitation throughout the recruitment process, and during their employment, the consequences can be severe.
Throughout the migration process, migrant workers are vulnerable to labour exploitation, abuse and human rights violations, including human trafficking. According to the ILO, 21 million people are victims of forced labour, 19 million of whom are exploited by individuals or private enterprises. Too often, labour migrants find themselves employed under substandard or exploitative working conditions, forced, deceived, and unable to leave due to “invisible chains” that bind them to a worksite or an employer.
Even where there is little physical danger, workers often endure what amounts to debt bondage after being forced to pay onerous recruitment fees just for the opportunity to work. Other times, payment is withheld from an employee or passports and other identity documents are retained, to ensure that they remain in captivity for the duration of their contract.
Leading companies worldwide recognise their responsibilities and are taking action. “In Asia, some workers travel across the continent looking for higher wages and can be misled by corrupt job brokers into paying these unjust costs,” Apple wrote in its 2016 Supplier Responsibility Progress Report, adding “Workers shouldn’t have to go into debt to earn a pay-check.” Apple audits its suppliers as part of its ongoing commitment to eliminate forced labour and in 2015 required its suppliers to repay USD 4.7 million in recruitment fees back to workers.
Other companies are taking action through a number of initiatives, such as labour supply chain mapping to trace their workers’ journeys from home communities to the worksite, and pre-departure orientation to empower workers with accurate information on their contract terms, rights, and access to remedy. In this way, recruited workers learn that earnings and salary deductions should be fair and transparent – and not opportunities for unscrupulous labour brokers to siphon off workers’ earnings through inflated billing.
IOM also helps companies and governments ensure that migrant workers are hired in a fair and transparent manner, consistent with ethical recruitment principles, in part through the development of industry-led codes of conduct and other self-regulatory initiatives requiring ethical recruitment practices within supply chains. One example is the International Recruitment Integrity System (IRIS), a voluntary certification process for international recruitment being developed by IOM, together with a group of like-minded partners.
For further information please contact Lara White at IOM Geneva, Tel: +41 22 717 9365, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org