Zofia Lawrence
Consultant, Sustainability Consulting, ELEVATE

Published: 5 September 2022

Published: 5 September 2022

Zofia Lawrence - Consultant, Sustainability Consulting, ELEVATE

Engaging Employers to Make Migration Safer

Since the tragic collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, issues around working conditions for migrant labour have been increasingly put in the spotlight. There is now mounting pressure on brands and their suppliers to measure and assess the impact of their sourcing practices on workers and the environment. Countries are increasingly implementing laws to protect workers and improve living and working conditions. As this growing awareness impacts consumer behaviour, brands are investing in sustainable practices across their supply chains.

For migrant labour, the highest risk falls within the recruitment journey. Unethical practices and extortionately high recruitment fees create a system which often leaves workers in debt bondage and forced labour. Forced labour in the private economy generates US$150 billion in illegal profits per year, according to the International Labour Organization (2014) with US$51.8 billion generated in Asia-Pacific region alone (1). With governments implementing new rules and procedures to counter the unscrupulous behaviour of agencies and training centres, agencies are able to take advantage of this overly regulated environment to incur additional inflated fees. This leaves ample opportunity for vulnerable workers to be exploited further.

SafeStep’s new features can help

Four years ago, ELEVATE, with support from the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery and the UK Government, began development of the SafeStep app. As a digital tool to help migrant workers understand the risks and rewards of working abroad, SafeStep empowers migrants to make informed decisions about migration and helps ensure their safe journey from their place of origin to the destination country. SafeStep is designed to be scalable to reach millions of workers who leave their families in search of a better life.

As part of this project, ELEVATE has partnered with the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery (GFEMS), Winrock International, and Diginex. Together, this consortium is working to increase uptake of the app and ensure SafeStep’s functionality reflects workers’ needs and realities. In the first iteration of the app, ELEVATE focussed on the Bangladesh – Gulf Cooperation Council countries migration corridor. With this second iteration, features are designed to support Bangladeshi workers migrating to work in Malaysia.

Buy-in from employers is paramount

SafeStep is a worker-centric digital tool, but for workers to have full support throughout their migration journey, buy-in from employers is paramount. Employers are under increased scrutiny for failures in complying with international standards. As the Covid-19 pandemic spread across the world in 2020, reports came to light of poor conditions and forced labour within the factories contracted by governments to provide PPE. With a spotlight on such abuses, governments increased scrutiny and began implementing Withhold Release Orders (WROs) to block the importation of products from specific suppliers until improvements were made. This list of WROs, at time of writing, is currently at a total of 75 companies, with US CBP increasing scrutiny in recent years beyond China into countries across Southeast Asia, South America and Africa.

SafeStep gives employers much-needed visibility

With international pressure to improve workers’ living and working conditions, employers are forced to prioritise their workforce. By investing in tools such as SafeStep, companies can demonstrate that they are taking action to support worker engagement and remediation. SafeStep’s employer dashboard links to the app’s Survey Centre, a feature enabling employers to deploy mass pre-departure and post-arrival surveys to their employees. These surveys allow employers to check in on a worker’s status and provide the opportunity for employees to flag issues early on, including whether they have paid recruitment fees. This information draws attention to any potential bad actors in the recruitment supply chains whereby companies are able to reassess their current partners and provide remedy for workers.

ELEVATE is looking for employers to trial out the SafeStep app amongst the workforce to improve its efficacy and provide additional features to the platform. If you are interested in building a more robust responsible recruitment system through SafeStep, please contact us here.

(1) Profits and Poverty: The Economics of Forced Labour, ILO, 20 May 2014

Over the course of this 3-part miniseries, we will take you through the recruitment journey of a worker and highlight the various features of the SafeStep app that support their safe migration. These features include Budget Calculator, Migration Checklist, eLearning, Survey Center, Help Center and the Suara Kami Helpline.


These blogs are written by ELEVATE staff members or associates and the views and opinions expressed are not necessarily those of ELEVATE.

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