Zofia Lawrence
Consultant, Sustainability Consulting, ELEVATE

Published: 20 February 2023

Published: 20 February 2023

Zofia Lawrence - Consultant, Sustainability Consulting, ELEVATE

How to build an ethical recruitment program

Companies are increasingly facing scrutiny on their recruitment and employment practices of migrant workers. Failure to develop a strong responsible recruitment program that addresses issues of forced labor may increase companies’ risks of facing reputational, legal, operational, and financial damage. As legislation and public interest in modern slavery increase globally, the potential consequences for businesses keep growing.

Current recruitment practices are based on a complex system of informal intermediaries and under-the-table corruption where vulnerable workers are easy targets for exploitation. There are multiple stages in the supply chain where issues of bonded or forced labor can manifest, from the sub agents at the village level to wage deductions and withheld payments during employment.

In order to build an ethical recruitment program, employers need to reframe the way recruitment has traditionally been carried out. Investing in tools that help build transparency and increase worker engagement will help bring to light any bad actors in the supply chain that need remediation.

Where are recruitment pain points?

Tanvir lives in a small village where economic opportunities are limited, and he struggles to support his family financially. He learns about a job opportunity overseas through someone in his village who promises a huge salary – triple what he could get at home. But he must pay a fee to the recruitment agency in order to get the job. The process is long. He takes a loan from the agent to cover these fees. After paying US$2,800 to secure his job, he will need to pay it all back in full before he can start saving. The agent takes his passport for “safekeeping” and will not return it until he departs for his job overseas.

He meets the agent at the airport and arrives to his new workplace to find the dormitories are cramped, and there are only two bathrooms for 50 workers.

The job is nothing like what he was promised. He was told his shift would be 8 hours, but he must work 12-hour shifts. He was promised US$350 per month but is being paid half as much. He would like to leave his job but has no way to pay off his recruitment debt.

Tanvir is in forced labor, and his story is not uncommon. The Walk Free Foundation estimates that 1,530,00 Bangladeshi’s were living in situations of modern slavery in 2016 with 44 out of 100 people being vulnerable to modern slavery. The majority of these cases were found in the private sector, like the case of Tanvir. According to the ILO, migrant workers are over three times more likely to be in forced labor than non-migrant adult workers.

What companies can do for situations like Tanvir’s

There are multiple problems in Tanvir’s story that are preventable through strong worker engagement and robust end-to-end recruitment due diligence. Employers should be prepared to achieve a complete overhaul of their exiting recruitment policies, procedures, and agreements with labor recruiters, as well as investing in new technologies to gather direct intelligence and feedback from workers throughout their migration. [To read the first of our two-part SafeStep blog series, ‘Engaging Employers to Make Migration Safer’, click here.]

SafeStep is a mobile phone app that empowers migrant workers to make better, more informed decisions about migration. It supports the safe and ethical recruitment of workers so that situations like Tanvir’s can be avoided.

Here are just a few of the ways that SafeStep can support this process:

1. Collect real-time information from employees on their working conditions: Tanvir is living in substandard conditions where dormitories are overcrowded and bathrooms unsanitary. The Survey Centre links to SafeStep’s Employer Portal, a separate site where employers can deploy mass surveys for two-way communication between workers and managers. Included are seven pre-loaded surveys, which are readily available to employers, covering topics such as working hours, dormitories, wages and working conditions. This feature provides real-time insights from workers and live data analysis.

2. Safely store documents: One of the first issues that Tanvir experienced was that the job and his salary were not the same as promised. SafeStep houses a Document Library, which safely stores all required documentation needed for the recruitment process. These documents, such as job description and worker contracts, should accurately portray the nature of the role and can be used to support workers’ claims of deceptive practices by employers.

3. Support access to remediation services: Unethical practices, such as contract substitution and identity retention, are commonplace. SafeStep is integrated with ELEVATE’s Suara Kami Helpline, a trusted third-party grievance mechanism (helpline) where workers can call or message a team of live operators. Operators raise cases with employers or recruiters to ensure that all parties are adhering to international standards. Finding out about issues from workers can help remediate issues quickly and efficiently before they develop into larger problems.

SafeStep is currently the only end-to-end solution that engages workers and employers throughout their recruitment and employment journey. ELEVATE is looking for employers to trial SafeStep with workers 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.

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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