Labor Supply Chain Integrity and Ethical Recruitment: A Perspective from IOM

January 30, 2014

Federico Soda, Head of Labor Migration and Human Development, International Organization for Migration

Globalization has made corporate value chains even more multi-tiered and complex and expanded labor opportunities into new geographies. As a result, migration has expanded, also increasing suppliers’ reliance on recruitment intermediaries to find, hire, and place those workers.

This reliance on sometimes distant intermediaries in an already complex supply chain can involve reputational risk for companies, particularly in relation to the mistreatment of workers. In the age of social media, this risk can potentially destroy brands and even companies.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and BSR are collaborating to improve international labor migration and recruitment practices, specifically through IOM’s International Recruitment Integrity System (IRIS), a voluntary fair recruitment framework designed to benefit all stakeholders in the labor migration process. We will also launch a public-private alliance on ethical and fair recruitment. This alliance will bring together governments, employers, recruitment intermediaries, civil society, and other interested organizations to take collective action to increase the integrity and transparency of the international recruitment industry.

The alliance aims to address the problems that can ensue in the absence of ethical recruitment practices, which pose risks for companies, workers, governments, and society. These include:

  • Human rights abuses such as forced labor, human trafficking, and child labor
  • The erosion of labor rights and wage rates in countries of destination
  • Social, financial, and legal costs to migrant workers, including visa violations and negative local perceptions of migrants
  • Disincentives for ethical recruitment due to unfair competition by unscrupulous recruiters
  • Poor public perception of brands, sectors, or even countries

But ensuring integrity in migrant labor recruitment is complicated. Recruiters often operate across borders and outside the oversight of brand managers, which means they may not be subject to any regulation or scrutiny.

In many cases, companies and even direct employers may not be aware that abuses are taking place. Even where laws and standards exist to monitor and regulate recruitment practices, the transnational nature of recruiters can make it difficult to enforce those laws across jurisdictions. Consequently, the responsibility falls on companies to monitor their labor supply chains.

IOM’s IRIS program works to bridge international legislative and regulatory gaps governing labor recruitment in countries of origin and countries of destination, providing a global framework for addressing unethical recruitment to address the risks and create transnational linkages.

By agreeing to abide by a common code of ethical conduct and best practices, stakeholders engaged in recruitment in countries of origin and destination will have assurances that their counterparts are committed to fair and ethical recruitment.

BSR’s is working with IOM to promote ethical recruitment as an important aspect of value chain integrity by sharing and integrating resources, knowledge, and technical and operational experience, and by fostering mutual communities of interest to promote ethical recruitment and safe labor migration.

Our joint objective is to establish a community of like-minded, socially responsible stakeholders involved in the international recruitment of workers. Our end goal is a win-win scenario that makes migrant workers less vulnerable to exploitation, while at the same time making employers less vulnerable to the reputational damage associated with unethical recruitment and abusive treatment of workers.

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