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Companies need to take responsibility for worker recruitment


Frances House

Deputy Chief Executive, Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB)

To protect migrant workers from debt bondage, we need more employers to take greater interest in the recruitment of their workers.

What role does recruitment play in modern day slavery?

The issue of modern slavery goes deeper than just the conditions in which someone has to work. Many workers are already in debt bondage, many paying between US$500 and US$10,000 even before they start working. Most have taken loans out and are making huge repayments, which puts them and their families at risk of further exploitation.

Are companies concerned about the recruitment of workers?

A handful of leading companies are beginning to address the risks here and look at their suppliers’ recruitment practices, but the vast majority of companies are staying silent on the issue, due to the complexities involved. We have a huge trend for outsourcing and for a company to be doing due diligence all the way down its supply chain is virtually impossible.

Another problem is the insatiable appetite for cheap products and the slim margins brands are operating on; it’s often the labour prices that are squeezed the hardest. In parallel, weak government legislation or enforcement, vested interests and corruption all contribute to a thriving unregulated recruitment industry  in many countries.

Are there enough ethical recruiters?

Sadly, there are very few ethical recruiters who aren’t charging worker fees. We need more companies to be negotiating with their suppliers to encourage the shift to an ‘employer pays’ model. As demand grows, we need to support recruiters who are already working legally to switch their business model by providing training, capacity building and accreditation.

What role does legislation play?

The UK is at the forefront of implementing legislation with the introduction of the Uk Modern Slavery Act. The mandatory annual Modern Slavery Statement. Is a way for companies to be publically held to account and is pushing the issue into the boardroom. All this helps to provide an enabling environment in which businesses can act, but we’d like to see things go a step further by including legal sanctions on those who aren’t reporting or who are not taking adequate steps to address issues.

How can companies move toward more ethical recruitment?

A move to an employer pays system is not easy, but it is essential. If more companies journey together then suppliers will see that it’s not just one of their customers asking and the risk will be shared. We also need a critical mass of leading global companies across all sectors who are setting the pace in their own industries. Through our Leadership Group for Responsible Recruitment, we’ve handpicked companies that demonstrate good responsible practice to act as advocates for eradication of worker fees, talking not just to their industry peers but also to government, and that can happen more effectively if it happens collectively.

Find out more about the Leadership Group for Responsible Recruitment or the Employer Pays Principle.

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