Today is Human Rights Day, a day observed every year on 10 December to commemorate the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. This year’s theme relates to the COVID-19 pandemic and focuses on the need to ensure that recovery efforts place Human Rights at their centre.
While COVID-19 has immobilised the world, tens of millions of migrant workers have been left facing unemployment and even deportation. At Impactt, these challenges have led us to make rapid changes to re-imagine how we work so that we are able to better support businesses to ensure these vulnerable workers are at the centre of recovery efforts.
Meaningful, remote due diligence
Following the outbreak, many countries moved quickly to implement social distancing measures and movement restrictions to try and curb the spread of the virus. To enable continued human rights due diligence, we looked at new and innovative ways to help businesses achieve this through remote monitoring and capacity building training programmes. To date we have reached over 64,000 workers in more than 11 countries through our re-thinking of how we can deliver in-depth due diligence that retains a focus on human connection, remotely. Here is a brief snapshot of what we’ve managed to help businesses achieve during a very difficult and troubling time:
- In Malaysia, we interviewed over 3,000 workers remotely, assessing presence of the ILO’s 11 forced labour indicators across over 50 sites, and we subsequently supported the implementation of corrective action plans across all locations.
- In Singapore, we surveyed over 300 workers on dormitories and living conditions to understand the direct knock-on effects of the lockdown and its impact on the mental and physical wellbeing of workers.
Our remote diagnostic efforts have continued to enable us to identify concealed issues (e.g. debt bondage, passport retention, temporary lay-offs, transparency issues). We have also continued to gather comprehensive intelligence on worker experiences, understanding workers’ sense of safety, worries and concerns during the pandemic.
Additionally, we’ve successfully hosted various remote training sessions on human rights, forced labour issues and health and safety to over 150 participants from around the world, empowering businesses with the knowledge and tools to manage and prevent future labour issues.
Remediation of unethical recruitment fees paid by migrant workers
Much effort has been expended for over a decade trying to improve migrant worker recruitment channels to address risks of forced labour, but real-world progress has been frustratingly slow. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, we have managed to successfully reimburse over US$77m to affected workers across a variety of sectors:
- In Malaysia, we worked with 10 businesses to repay over US$ 71 million to over 25,000 workers.
- As a result of our remote due diligence work in Singapore, we have facilitated an agreement to repay US$5 million to approximately 10,000 migrant workers.
- In India we facilitated and verified hardship payments to over 1,000 workers who were left unexpectedly without work and without an income. The payments drastically reduced financial concern and enabled workers to afford appropriate healthcare for their families.
Impact on workers globally
Most workers we interviewed following the reimbursements, reported that they repaid their debt, have been able to afford healthcare fees for their family and finally some are able to start saving money for the future. Many workers expressed their sincere gratitude during our conversations with them and reported that they feel less stressed about money and their finances. Numerous suppliers we worked with during this time, also committed to strengthening their recruitment systems on prevention.
Through our unique, worker-centric approach, several of the businesses and suppliers we were engaged with were able to increase their knowledge and confidence in international standards and regulations on forced labour and ethical recruitment, equipping them with the ability to minimise any risk of forced labour in their workforce.
Despite the challenges that 2020 has brought us, we have managed to successfully test and try remote approaches which have resulted in tangible outcomes for workers and businesses. While the business world continues to find its feet in the COVID-19 pandemic, our 25 years of expertise in bridging the gap between stakeholders helps us to continue developing robust, long-term, holistic solutions that delivers real results. To learn how Impactt can support your business and go from policy to practice, click below to get in touch.