For companies, governments, and non-governmental organisations concerned with tackling forced labour, improving the recruitment journey of a migrant worker is an essential priority. Many workers face high recruitment fees, which can lead to debt and the risk of debt bondage, a type of forced labour.
Promoting ethical recruitment practices – particularly tackling the high costs that workers pay in recruitment – is a focal point for initiatives such as the ILO’s Fair Recruitment Initiative, the IOM’s International Recruitment Integrity System (IRIS), the Responsible Recruitment Toolkit and Recruitment Advisor.
Putting this into practice, however, can be daunting. Impactt’s report Ethical Recruitment: Translating Policy into Practice seeks to help overcome the barriers to taking action by drawing lessons from a case study of the approach of global seafood producer Thai Union. Commissioned by Humanity United and Freedom Fund, Impactt evaluated the implementation of Thai Union’s Ethical Migrant Recruitment Policy to understand the successes and challenges in this real-world example.
What did they do?
Thai Union launched their Ethical Migrant Recruitment Policy in 2016. As part of this policy, Thai Union set out to reduce the amount of costs that workers’ pay during recruitment. The model is not zero-cost for workers, but substantially reduces the costs that workers pay. Workers paid an average of $127 USD, whilst research from the same time period cites an average recruitment cost to workers of $413 to $523 USD.
A key strength of the model is the partnership with the Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN), a membership-based civil-society organisation for migrant workers from Myanmar residing and working primarily in Thailand. Working with a third-party worker-centric NGO helped create robust monitoring channels where workers are more likely to raise issues.
Problems did arise in the process. But as they did, the monitoring process helped identify them and Thai Union made efforts to remediate the issues, albeit with some challenges. Crucially, the company adopted a spirit of continuous improvement, adapting practices based on learnings from when problems arose.
What can we do?
Their openness to share these learnings – from the recruitment process itself to the challenges they faced – is a real asset to practitioners looking to implement ethical recruitment. Thai Union’s shared mapping of the step-by-step recruitment process shows understanding the often opaque world of recruitment can be done – and indeed this understanding is needed as a foundation for improving recruitment practices.
Ending exploitation in recruitment will not be achieved by one company alone. The problems are deeply rooted and will require action from all stakeholders: governments, civil society organisations, workers themselves, recruitment agencies, and of course other businesses.
Crucially, to drive sustained and widespread action on ethical recruitment across the value chain, costs must be a part of the discussion. For buyers, the costs will need to be recognised. Suppliers that bear costs of moving to an “employer pays” model should be rewarded and incentivised through purchasing practices. Doing so could substantially shift the recruitment market, and ultimately take costs off of workers’ shoulders.
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