From searching for work to speaking with recruiters and eventually signing a contract, most people experience a recruitment journey in order to secure a job. For some this process is relatively straightforward if somewhat laborious, for others it can be a process so mired in fraud and exploitation that they risk becoming trapped in a situation of modern slavery. This risk of exploitation is especially true for migrant workers within supply chains, where many thousands of workers seek low-paid jobs in factories to produce clothes, food, and electronics. ‘Responsible recruitment’ is frequently touted as the way forward, mentioned in the sustainability strategies of many brands and companies seeking to demonstrate a commitment to fair labour. However, recruitment involves many stages and can even span across multiple countries and parties. How can the private sector truly responsible practice throughout?
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Job advertising should be as transparent and clear as possible, in order to set expectations and communicate with workers the terms of employment. Exploitation at the job seeking stage occurs when workers are tricked or deceived by fake or fraudulent job postings. Traffickers will target the most vulnerable populations who are desperate for work to provide for their families, promising employment that truly is ‘too good to be true’. To combat this, projects such as Bongpheak in Cambodia aim to validate and verify job postings, to provide a safer space for workers to seek employment that is free from potential pitfalls and exploitation.
Where possible, companies or the intermediaries that they use should ensure that job postings clearly state information on the working requirements, contract terms, wages and earnings, as well as any required fees or costs to secure the role. The information contained in the job posting should remain consistent throughout the recruitment, contract signing, and employment of the worker.
Recruitment Agencies & Brokers
Often workers will use recruitment agencies or less formal channels, in order to find a job. These may be legitimate businesses or individuals recruiting without a license, family friends and networks of people who act as informal brokers. Companies and factories may also rely on engaging with recruitment agents in order to source employees. While many of these agencies are legitimate, illicit and corrupt recruitment agencies target and trap workers with a variety of deceptive practices. They may charge hidden fees, make false promises, or deceive workers into debt. In the case of migrating to find a job, workers may need to interact with multiple recruitment agencies or brokers in both their home and destination locations. This can make the recruitment process incredibly murky, and it becomes increasingly challenging to have transparency when multiple parties are involved. Companies may find it very difficult to ascertain whether workers have been exploited during their recruitment, and there may be a lack of trust between the employer, agency, and workers that further compounds issues of transparency. On the other hand, some agencies and groups are proactively moving towards more ethical recruitment processes. Fair Employment Agency for example does not charge any fees to domestic helpers seeking work in Hong Kong, contrary to the norm, in order to demonstrate a commitment to fair recruitment standards. IOM’s flagship IRIS project also seeks to train and recognise those agencies that are committed to supporting migrant workers to find jobs in a fair and debt-free manner, challenging the status-quo of migrant labour recruitment.
To learn more about exploitation via recruitment agencies, read one of our typology reports on the exploitation of Kenyan domestic workers.
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Recruitment fees are one of the key drivers of modern slavery, used by illicit actors to drive workers into debt and indentured servitude. The world of recruitment fees can be challenging to unravel, particularly when there are multiple actors involved in the workers’ recruitment process. Brokers or agents may charge fees to workers in order to secure their employment, pay for training, travel documents, visas, health checks, and so forth. In fact this is standard practice in many countries and industries. Workers may be required to pay a finders or ‘thank-you’ fee to their agent, which they may not even realise is a form of recruitment fee. Some employers may also directly charge workers for training, employment documentation, and other recruitment related costs. These fees may be clearly communicated to the worker and paid voluntarily, or they may be hidden and levied upon the worker when they are far along in the process. The legality of fees can also vary from country to country, impacting migrant groups differently. It is understood that often these fees are used as a means of control, driving workers into debt that they must effectively work for free or very low pay in order to clear.
Many companies have signed up to pledges that prohibit the payment of recruitment fees by workers in any instance. Many have also committed to repay workers any illegal fees levied upon them during the recruitment process. Globally, there is increasing pressure on the private sector to address the issue of recruitment fees within their supply chains. Mekong Club has recently launched a toolkit that explains the legal framework for recruitment fees in some key sourcing locations, in order to support companies in understanding how recruitment fees may affect their businesses, and the laws that they need to be aware of in this space. Mekong Club members can access this and many other tools here.
Employment contracts within supply chain labour recruitment processes can be prone to fraud and deception which can lead to labour exploitation. Recruiters, agents, or employers may force workers to sign contracts in a language they cannot read in order to force unfavourable terms onto workers. They may even change the terms of the employment contract during the recruitment process and make edits that the worker is unaware of. In some cases, workers may not be provided with access to their own employment contracts at all, and are therefore unable to prove the terms and conditions of their employment if a grievance does arise. Employers are encouraged to ensure that workers are provided with legal contracts, clearly defining their employment terms and conditions, with no hidden clauses or fees. Contracts should be provided in the language of the worker and they should be given a copy of the original signed document for their records. Any updates or changes to the employment terms should be addressed in a transparent and legal way. Projects such as the eMin platform, which secures employment terms using blockchain technology, can also be used to add an additional layer of trust and security to the process.
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Responsible recruitment is a key strategic concern for many companies, as increasing pressure is put on the private sector to address the above challenges in their supply chains. Contact [email protected] to learn more about how we support and collaborate with companies to develop comprehensive anti-slavery strategies.
Author – Phoebe Ewen