Step 2. Raising Awareness and Building Capacity
Fair Hiring Toolkit for Brands
Framework for Action: What Can Brands Do? >>
1. Improving Codes of Conduct and Company Policies >>
2. Raising Awareness and Building Capacity >>
3. Strengthening Assessments & Social Audits >>
4. Taking Corrective Action & Developing Systems Improvement Plans >>
5. Reporting & Transparency >>
6. Multi-Stakeholder & Multi-Brand Engagement >>
7. Public Policy Advocacy >>
Framework for Action: What Can Suppliers Do? >>
1. Improving Codes of Conduct & Company Policies >>
2. Raising Awareness & Building Capacity >>
3. Screening & Evaluating Labor Recruiters >>
4. Managing Labor Recruiters & Monitoring for Ethical Recruitment & Hiring >>
5. Ensuring Good Practice in Human Resources Management >>
6. Establishing Effective Grievance Mechanisms & Protection for Whistleblowers >>
7. Taking Corrective Action & Developing Systems Improvement >>
Step 2. Raising Awareness and Building Capacity
A brand’s policy cannot be well-implemented unless the issue it addresses is understood by management and staff. A well-trained and informed company will be in a strong position to translate policy into effective and sustainable practice.
Brands should seek to raise awareness broadly and deeply within their own companies and across their supply chains. They should target senior managers and key personnel from within CSR, social compliance and supply chain departments as well as relevant personnel and counterparts among their suppliers. To start, awareness-raising can target at-risk countries or regions, and then be rolled out to include all operations within the supply base. A new policy or revised code can provide the basis for this awareness-raising.
Brands should also conduct training for their staff and suppliers. This training can cover:
- The companies social responsibilities principles;
- Methods of detecting abuse in recruitment and hiring;
- Effective measures of prevention and corrective action; and
- Strategies for continuous improvement.
A training program can be held face-to-face or online. It can be facilitated by the brand or in partnership with other companies and stakeholders. Whatever the method, training and awareness are key steps in tackling abuse in recruitment and hiring and setting out protections for migrant workers.
The tools and links provided in this section give you an overview of recruiter-induced forced labor and human trafficking, and the key red flags of risk and vulnerability. You can use these tools to raise your awareness, share them with your colleagues, and consider integrating them in internal communications and training.
TOOL 1: What Should You Look For? Identifying Company Risk & Vulnerability to the Human Trafficking and Forced Labor of Migrant Workers
One way to better understand and raise awareness about the relationship between labor recruiters and the trafficking of migrant workers into forced labor is to clearly identify common forms of exploitation linked to this type of abuse. The following indicators or “red flags” of risk and vulnerability identify these forms of exploitation. They set out the common practices used by recruiters and employers that leave migrant workers in extreme situations of vulnerability to forced labor.This cluster of practices – which may occur independently, though are most often found in combination – are “enablers” or contributors to human trafficking and forced labor. Identifying them as “red flags” is a key first step in detecting and remediating hiring traps and promoting fair hiring in the global economy.
RED FLAGS OF RISK AND VULNERABILITY TO RECRUITER-INDUCED HIRING TRAPS
1. Setting the Stage
The following issues are starting points for analysis. If one or more of these preconditions for risk of trafficking and forced labor among migrant workers is present, further evaluation should be performed.
- Presence of Migrant Workers: Any workplace in which migrant workers are present should be considered at risk for forced labor. Even those with only a handful of migrant workers are not exempt from this risk.
- Use of Labor Recruiters: When migrant workers are hired through recruiters, the conditions of their recruitment and hiring are no longer under the control of, or even readily apparent to, employers. This risk is further magnified when labor recruiters use sub-recruiters or subcontractors.
- Informality in Recruitment and Hiring: The use of labor recruiters (or sub-recruiters used at any point in the process of recruiting, hiring and on-site management of workers) that either do not operate legally or do not have the required license granted by the relevant public authority in countries of operation is an important sign of risk.
- Long Employment “Supply Chain”: The longer the “chain” between worker and employer the higher the likelihood that abuse may occur. Factors that may increase the length of the chain include the number of intermediaries and steps between the worker and the final place of employment as well as “degrees of separation,” which can include language barriers, cultural and social differences, and geographical distances.
- Extremely Low Costs to Employer of Recruiter Services: By comparing how much workers must pay to secure a job with how much recruiters paid by the employer for their services, it can become apparent if the recruiter’s costs are so low that coercive methods in hiring and recruiting are more likely.
- Binding Terms of Work Visa: If work visas strictly tie workers to one employer, workers may face strong “menace of penalty” for leaving an abusive job. Governments that allow the temporary contract-based hiring of migrant workers tend to have immigration and other laws that may restrict migrants’ mobility within the country, their reproductive rights, and even labor rights like the freedom to associate and bargain collectively. Though many of these laws have legitimate goals, they can be abused to control workers in ways that may violate not only standards on voluntary labor, but other standards, like non-discrimination and humane treatment.
Fernando from Guatemala: Tied to an Abusive Employer by Legal Visa
Fernando, originally from an indigenous area of Guatemala sought legal, short term employment in the US through the H2 guest worker program. A reputable recruiter in Guatemala offered Fernando a minimum wage job planting trees in North Carolina as an H2B worker. Fernando was trucked to New England to work long hours for less pay than he was promised. He was ordered never to leave the worksite, and signed a contract in English, a language which he could not read or speak. His passport was taken away and he was threatened with deportation if he complained or left. His living situation was deplorable and he found himself unable to meet unreasonable quotas. He was in debt for his original investment of US $2,000 for embassy interview, plane ticket and living expenses. However, under the terms of the H2B visa, he was not allowed to seek other employment. Had he left his employer, he could have been arrested, deported, and left with no way to repay his debt.
See Fernando’s Full Worker Profile
2. The Bait: Recruitment and Hiring
“The Bait” refers to factors that serve to entrap workers prior to their employment. Verité found two factors in recruitment and hiring to be almost universal factors in hiring traps: debt, and various types of deception, including contract substitution. Fraudulent visa practices were also found to be a strong indicator of vulnerability to trafficking and forced labor.
- Amount and Location of Worker Debt: When debt is held by the employer or recruiter, there is a direct relationship of subservience and obligation that puts the worker at risk of forced labor. But the existence of any debt, even if it is held by an independent party not in collusion with the recruiter or employer, can make the worker more vulnerable to manipulation and abuse. Red flags associated with debt include:
- The charging of illegal or excessive recruitment fees by recruiters;
- Fraudulent practices in charging other fees, e.g. for services relating to travel and transportation, medical exams, health certificates, official documentation and/or skills testing; and/or
- Substantial loans held by workers, with excessive interest rates and/or onerous financing schemes.
In Focus: Excessive Debt from Recruitment Fees
In India, Verité research found that migrants to Gulf Coast country states of the Middle East paid recruitment fees ranging from US$1200 to US$3800, amounts far above the legal limit. Workers used various means to finance their recruitment fees such as borrowing money from relatives, banks, or money lenders; selling assets such as jewelry; or taking out mortgages on family homes.
In the Philippines, Verité research found that the recruitment fees charged by agencies deploying for Taiwan ranged from US$3000 to almost US$4000. Workers reported being instructed to falsify their immigration paperwork, under-reporting their recruitment fees by as much as 80 percent. Workers financed their fees by borrowing from family members, banks or money lenders, often at very high rates.
Deception in Recruitment and Hiring: Deception in recruitment and hiring – especially when combined with worker debt – is a major red flag. Types of deception can include:
- Deception or false promises made at the time of recruitment and hiring with regard to the terms and conditions of employment, including job type, availability of work, location, length of contract, salary and benefits;
- The terms and conditions of employment agreed upon at the time of recruitment are not those contained in the employment contract. Changes have been made without the knowledge or consent of the worker;
- The original contract provisions agreed to at the time of recruitment are replaced by provisions less favorable to the worker, either one or more times over the course of the hiring and deployment process (this is called “contract substitution”) or once the worker arrives at the worksite (through so-called “supplemental agreements”);
- The terms and conditions of recruitment, transportation, employment and living accommodations have not been communicated to the workers.
In Focus: Sample Supplemental Agreement Clauses
“I agree that for safekeeping, the employer shall keep my passport until termination of the employment contract.”“I understand and agree to pay monthly and other fees required in employment related documents during my employment. The factory will deduct the fees from my salary, or in the event that my salary is not sufficient, from my savings fund.”“I acknowledge that the factory can deduct TWD 3000 from my payroll account and transfer it to a savings account until the contract expires. I cannot withdraw or close the savings account without approval.”
- Fraudulent Visa Practices: Visa fraud, in which recruiters take fees and deliver a fraudulent visa or no visa at all can leave workers in debt or possibly imprisoned.
Abdul from India: Imprisoned for Fake Visa
Abdul was promised a work visa through a Mumbai-based recruitment agency for a mechanic job in Dubai. He paid US$1,675 to the recruiter/agent for recruitment fee, work visa and plane ticket. Upon arrival at the Dubai aiport, Abdul’s visa was found to be counterfeit. He was taken into custody and imprisoned for eight months. Because he did not speak the local language, he could not communicate with immigration officials. His family was finally able to pay an additional US$491 to get him out of jail.
See Abdul’s full worker profile
- Coercion in Recruitment and Hiring: Migrants are threatened with denunciation to authorities to coerce acceptance of employment or specific employment terms.
- Informality in Recruitment and Hiring: A final red flag in the recruitment and hiring phase is the use of labor recruiters that either do not operate legally or do not have the required license granted by the relevant public authority in countries of operation.
3. The Switch: Revealed in the Workplace
“The Switch” refers to conditions that bind within the job. Once on-the-job, migrant workers who are highly leveraged due to excessive recruitment fees, and/or who were subject to deception in recruitment and hiring, are exceedingly vulnerable to exploitation. In Verité’s experience, employers engage in a range of practices that exacerbate vulnerability to forced labor.
In Focus: Labor Recruiter as On-site Manager Leads to Exploitation
In the United States, an organic farmer contracted out the management of his migrant workers to a small labor recruiter who financed the smuggling of workers into the country from Mexico. While undocumented workers who were managed directly by the farmer lived and worked in relatively good conditions, workers smuggled from Mexico and managed by the recruiter were underpaid, threatened with violence and deeply in debt. The organic farmer was unaware of the situation and “shocked” to find out about the conditions of these workers.
- Use of a Labor Recruiter as an On-Site Manager: Where labor recruiters manage the work and/or living conditions of migrants on-site, risk of abusive practices is high.
- Confiscation of Identity Documents: Confiscation or withholding of passports in particular – but also residency permits, work permits or other valuable personal possessions – is one of the most chronic abuses reported by migrant workers around the globe. Employers often rationalize that they are holding passports or other official documents for safekeeping, but in fact workers often do not feel comfortable requesting access to their documents, and/or the process for gaining access to their documents is onerous and intimidating. Without papers, a migrant worker cannot freely and safely move about or leave a host country, and is at risk of imprisonment if stopped and questioned by police.
In Focus: Passport Confiscation in IT Factories in Malaysia
In IT factories in Malaysia, workers reported to Verité that they are required to turn over their passports to their employer. In order for workers to be allowed to “borrow” their passports, they are often required to sign a logbook indicating their reasons for doing so. In some companies, workers were denied access to their passports until the end of their contract. At one agency, workers were required to give monetary deposits for borrowing their own passports.
Deductions, Fines, Withholdings and Illegally Low Pay: Take-home pay is rarely as high as a migrant worker was told it would be by her labor recruiter. Several mechanisms contribute to the disparity.
- Forced savings programs – where a portion of the worker’s salary is withheld and deposited into a savings account to which the worker does not have access until her term of work is complete – significantly deplete a worker’s take-home pay and ability to pay off debt. In Taiwan, for example, forced savings of up to 30% of the worker’s salary is legally permitted;
- The levying of un-anticipated (and sometimes excessive, unexplained or illegal) deductions for items such as food, housing, or travel can further induce indebtedness;
- Earnings can be depleted if wages are withheld, delayed or unpaid; or if workers are forced to accept non-cash payments or payments in kind; and/or
- In some cases workers are required to use a portion of their salary to lodge financial deposits or “security” fees, e.g. as “runaway insurance”.
Benny from the Philippines: Deceived & in Debt
After graduating from a four-year computer school in the Philippines, Benny could not find any work so he turned to a labor recruiter to help him get a job in an IT factory in Taiwan. He was charged US$2,223 for his recruitment and traveling fees, for which he borrowed money from his mother. Upon arrival in Taiwan, he was told that his fees were converted to Taiwanese dollars which increased his debt by 150 percent. He was also only paid half of what he was expecting due to cost of living expenses and a forced savings of 30 percent. Benny was required to work six to seven days a week, 12 hours a day and overtime was mandatory. By the end of his contract he was forced to pay another US$444 to extend his contract. Soon after that, the factory announced that they could no longer afford to keep all of the employees but his extension fee would not be returned to him. He was also informed that his forced savings were slotted for his return ticket home. Benny returned to the Philippines with no money. His family’s home was flooded by a typhoon, and he is applying for more work in Taiwan. This time, he hopes to go with an “honest” recruiter.
See Benny’s full worker profile
- Employer Control of Bank Account: Employer or recruiter access to workers’ bank accounts creates powerful leverage for the employer or recruiter over the worker. A worker may feel trapped in his job because he fears that his earnings will be taken away if he complains or attempts to leave.
- Lack of Freedom to Terminate Employment: Employers and recruiters may use a variety of coercive means to restrict migrant workers’ freedom to terminate employment, including:
- Breach-of-contract penalties that force workers to stay in jobs by imposing financial penalties for voluntary or involuntary termination of the contract;
- Informal threats of loss of wages, savings or deposits; and/or
- Threat or use of violence, harassment or intimidation.
- Restrictions on Freedom of Movement: Migrant workers may be subjected to any number of restrictions on their ability to move freely in the host country, including:
- Tenancy in employer-operated residences is compulsory as a condition of recruitment and/or continued employment;
- Presence of security personnel or other security measures in the workplace or at residences restrict freedom of movement;
- Migrant workers are not free to return to their country of origin during paid leave or holidays; and/or
- Imprisonment or physical confinement in the workplace or related premises, e.g. employer-operated residences.
- Isolation: Geographic, social, cultural, or even language isolation can trap migrant workers at a work site. By isolating workers and becoming their sole source of food, information and communication, labor recruiters can render workers incapable of independent action.
Rani from India: Isolated and Abused through the Sumangali Scheme
Fifteen year old Rani lives in a small village in India. When she was 13, a recruiter promised her a good job with a lump sum payment at the end of three years, which could help pay her dowry. She worked in a spinning mill where she worked with harsh chemicals and bleach. Her monthly stipend, after deductions for food and lodging, came to under US$20 a month. She was left with burns on her skin. She was not allowed to go anywhere unattended and rarely left her hostel. She was not allowed to speak to anyone, including her family. She was subjected to harassment and abuse in both the factory and hostel. She was told that she would not receive any of the lump sum payment if she complained.
See Rani’s full worker profile
- Threats and Violence: Threats and violence are not necessary to entrap workers, but when used, threats and violence are effective ways of “beating down” workers, rendering them compliant and fearful of possible retributions to themselves or their families.
TOOL 2: Understanding the Role of Labor Recruiters in the Human Trafficking and Forced Labor of Migrant Workers
Modern-day slavery is thriving. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), a minimum of 20.9 million people are victims of forced labor worldwide at any given time. Of these, over 2.4 million are victims of forced labor that results from human trafficking. A growing number of these victims are migrant workers who have been trafficked for “legal” employment in factories, on farms, at construction sites, in homes, and elsewhere.
WHAT IS FORCED LABOR?
The ILO defines forced labor as “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which said person has not offered himself voluntarily.” This means that a person is in a forced labor situation if they have entered into a job against their freedom of choice and cannot leave that job without facing a penalty or a threat of penalty of any kind. A penalty, in this case, could be physical constraint or punishment, or it could refer to other forms of abuse such as threats of deportation, the confiscation of passports, or the non-payment of wages that effectively binds a worker to a job or employer.
WHAT IS HUMAN TRAFFICKING?
Human trafficking can lead to forced labor. It involves the movement of a person, usually across international borders though increasingly also within the boundaries of a single country, by means of threat, deception or abuse of vulnerability for the purpose of exploitation. The United Nations Palermo Protocol of 2000, which provides the internationally-accepted definition of human trafficking, states that this abuse involves three key elements: actions, means and purpose.
- Actions: Include the recruitment, transportation, harboring, and receipt of a person – a woman, man, or a child.
- Means: Refers to the threat or use of force, deception, or the abuse of vulnerability and power.
- Purpose: Refers to exploitation, including forced labor, servitude, slavery, and practices similar to slavery.
When a human being is trafficked for the purposes of forced labor, the result is modern day slavery.
THE GLOBAL SCOPE OF THE PROBLEM
Forced labor and human trafficking are truly global phenomena. They exist in every region in the world and in every type of economy, whether a country is industrialized, developing or in transition. They affect both international and domestic markets, and no sector or industry can be considered immune to or untainted by the risk of this abuse. Key industries revealed by global research to be vulnerable to human trafficking and forced labor include:
- Apparel manufacturing and footwear;
- Agriculture and horticulture;
- Construction and infrastructure;
- Electronics manufacturing and information technology;
- Forestry and logging;
- Mining and extractives;
- Food processing and packaging; and
- Health care and other personal care services.
LABOR RECRUITERS: A KEY PIECE OF THE HUMAN TRAFFICKING PUZZLE
The middlemen or intermediaries who facilitate employment for migrant workers are an important part of the human trafficking picture. Typically referred to as recruiters or labor recruiters, these middlemen often play a legitimate and useful role in job placement. But as Verité’s research has found, this widespread system of labor recruitment is often opaque, sometimes corrupt, and largely lacking in accountability. What’s more, the debt and deception that brokers often introduce to the recruitment and hiring process can create critical vulnerabilities to trafficking and forced labor for migrant workers.
Labor recruiters are typically subcontracted for the recruitment and hiring of migrants. They act as facilitators between those workers and their eventual employers and assume functions ranging from matching aspiring workers to jobs around the world or in other parts of the country, arranging for visas, making travel arrangements, providing pre-departure orientation or training, or even negotiating contracts. In some cases, labor recruiters also manage migrant workers at the job site. While recruiters play a legitimate – perhaps indispensible – role in the smooth and efficient functioning of global supply chain production, their presence makes workers more vulnerable to forced labor. When there are problems in outsourced recruitment and hiring workers may be trapped in debt-bondage.
HOW DO LABOR RECRUITERS INCREASE THE RISK OF DEBT BONDAGE?
Recruiter-induced forced labor occurs when a migrant worker is deceived by a labor recruiter during the recruitment and hiring process, often heavily saddled with debt that results from excessive recruitment and other service fees, and facing any number of coercive circumstances at the workplace exacted by an employer that the worker may be “tied to” as a result of restrictive work-visa regulations. In the labor recruiter-worker relationship, the terms of work, and the responsibilities of the recruiter to the worker, are often poorly defined and poorly understood. Once a worker is on-the-job at a foreign workplace – with a large loan and attendant interest payments – it is difficult, if not impossible, to escape. The result is a condition of force that Verité calls the hiring trap; there are few global workplace problems in more urgent need of attention today.
WHAT ROLE DO EMPLOYERS PLAY IN RECRUITER-INDUCED FORCED LABOR?
Employers, often inadvertently, “flip the switch” on the hiring trap by providing a job that pays less than what the labor recruiter had promised to the worker. They may also contribute to the abuse that ties the worker to the job by:
- Withholding passports;
- Controlling worker bank accounts;
- Placing migrant workers in physical isolation; or
- Levying deductions and withholding wages that further diminish workers’ take-home pay and ability to pay off their debt.
UNDERSTANDING THE RISK TO BUSINESS: MAKING THE CASE FOR ACTION
The abuse faced by trafficked migrant workers – e.g. the deception of dishonest labor recruiters, the induced indebtedness and the coercive practices used by employers in the workplace – present a myriad of risks to global business. These risks can take a variety of forms, and can present themselves across a variety of business “locations”, including:
- Within a company’s own operations;
- Across global supply chains;
- In the murky waters of extensive sub-contracting and outsourcing systems;
- At the commodity “base” of the value chain; or
- Through the deceptive actions of third party business partners or service providers, such as labor recruiters, security services or cleaning companies.
Risk may be direct or indirect, and may take forms that a company or brand may or may not be aware of. To make sense of this complexity, the chart below indicates the different types of risk that pose a threat to business. Taken together, they present a clear case for taking effective action against recruiter-induced forced labor.
FORMS OF FORCED LABOR RISK
Forced labor and human trafficking are considered crimes in most countries around the world. Companies found involved or complicit in such activity could face prosecution resulting in criminal or civil sanctions including fines, compensation to victims and imprisonment. Forced labor and human trafficking are also considered violations of international human rights law.
Threats to Brand Value & Company Reputation
Allegations of forced labor and human trafficking can present serious threats to brand value and company reputation, particularly for those companies operating in consumer goods industries. Brand “contamination” can be difficult to reverse, and allegations such as these can threaten both existing and future business partnerships, resulting in a loss of contracts and/or future business opportunities.
In some countries, trade regulations strictly prohibit the import of goods that have been produced by trafficked or forced labor. In these jurisdictions, allegations of abuse can result in imported goods being seized by public authorities, inspected, and released only when shown to be untainted.
Threats to Investment & Finance
Allegations of human rights abuse, forced labor and human trafficking can significantly threaten investor relations and risk divestment from both ethical and mainstream investors. They can also jeopardize access to public funds such as export credits, as public authorities increasingly link the financial support they provide to business with proven ethical performance.
WHAT CAN BRANDS AND SUPPLIERS DO TO COMBAT THE HUMAN TRAFFICKING AND FORCED LABOR OF MIGRANT WORKERS?
There are many steps that companies can take within their own operations and in their supply chains to prevent, detect and remediate recruiter-led human trafficking and forced labor. Refer to the other sections of the Verité Fair Hiring toolkit for ways that your brand can take action.