June 20, 2019


Beyond Remediation

Angela Lake

Human rightsModern slaveryResponsible recruitment


Millions of dollars are repaid every year to workers for fees they wrongly incur in the recruitment process. Is there a better way?

Of the 16 million people working in forced labour today, an estimated 50% are in debt bondage, often incurred through illegality and inflated fees during the recruitment process. This means that a large proportion of workers, the majority of whom migrate for work, are already victims or vulnerable to modern slavery before they even set foot onto a farm or factory floor.

Recent years have seen an increased focus on tackling exploitative recruitment among large corporates. Initiatives such as the IHRBs Employer Pays Principle and the Consumer Goods Forum’s No worker should pay for a job commitment have sprung up in response. 41% of companies bench-marked by KnowTheChain across three sectors had made a commitment by 2019 to prohibit worker paid recruitment fees. However, even those who have signed up are still slow to publicise their efforts, with only 10% providing clear evidence of meaningful implementation.

A few companies have been disclosing their actions to address the issue, including data on their remediation programs, whereby workers are directly reimbursed for the fees they paid during the recruitment process. In it’s 2019 supplier responsibility report, Apple disclosed it has repaid $30.6 million supplier recruitment fees since 2008, with $616k of that repaid to 287 supplier employees in 2018. A significant amount of money to counter the fallout from deceptive recruitment.

Whilst remediation undoubtedly needs to be a component of any corporate response to debt bondage; if only implemented in isolation, it could do more harm than good.

Remediation neglects to solve and can potentially exacerbate the root problems of deception and extortion in recruitment . Job-seekers can become increasingly vulnerable to exploitation and criminality at the hands of rogue recruiters and traffickers who will find ways to further capitalise on employer promises of future reimbursement. Even companies who implement the Employer Pays Principle prior to recruitment are not immune to corrupt recruiters, known to extort additional payment from eager job-seekers.

Companies are duty bound to develop more preventative models of responsible recruitment, beginning with how resources are directed. This can include the mapping and investigation of supplier recruitment practice, collecting data on the journey workers are taking into employment and equipping job-seekers with pre-departure training. This can then lead to the implementation of more rigorous recruitment that rewards ethical recruiters. While some corporates may be able to take steps to employ directly, for most, local agents and mid-stream recruiters are essential to the eco-system of labour provision, particularly migrant labour.

The benefits of a more transparent and regulated recruitment system are not just for workers. Financial investment in better recruitment practice offers a more sustainable long- term solution than simply perpetuating the remediation model. Increased accountability and deception in the recruitment industry will enable businesses to employ more discerningly, attracting workers who are better informed on and suited to the employment they are recruited to. The World Employment Confederation recently published a paper on the business case for ethical recruitment using evidence from the Indian staffing Federation. 71% of company respondents reported an increase in staff morale and worker productivity with improved recruitment practice.

Ultimately, the aim of responsible recruitment is not only to right the wrongs, but acknowledge the dignity and inherent value of every person in the supply chain.

Engaging directly with the recruitment process and with workers before they enter the workplace is arguably a better way to disrupt abusive practice, reduce trauma and shame for those affected and provide an economically sustainable model.   

FiftyEight has developed Just Good Work, a mobile app for migrant job-seekers and workers to educate them on their rights and responsibilities in moving abroad for work. Find out more here.  

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