Responsible Recruitment

Respecting the rights of workers starts with responsible recruitment and hiring.

What is Responsible Recruitment?

Responsible recruitment—sometimes referred to as ethical or fair recruitment—refers to concepts, initiatives, and supporting structures that uphold migration with dignity. Complementary actions from companies and governments are important due to governance gaps that leave workers and job seekers vulnerable to exploitation during or due to migration for work.

Governments and regulators are increasing efforts to improve policies and address gaps, including combatting recruiters and employers using unfair and nontransparent practices.

ILO guidance stipulates that no recruitment fees or related costs should be borne by workers or jobseekers (although some exemptions exist). The “Employer Pays” model also requires that all costs of recruitment are met by the employer.

For a company to ensure migration with dignity and follow fair recruitment and employment practices, no worker should pay a fee to secure a job, workers should be recruited through legal and ethical processes, and the hiring process must include worker safeguards and transparency.

Issara Institute: Slavery Free Recruitment Systems.

Why Responsible Recruitment Matters

The seafood industry relies on many workers to produce, harvest, and process fish and other seafood products. However, taking on a new job—especially if a worker must migrate between countries for that job—is often risky. Even before a worker steps foot in a processing facility or arrives at a vessel, they may accrue debts that make them vulnerable to coercion, exploitation, debt bondage, and threats.

According to the ILO Fair Recruitment Initiative, workers may encounter one or more of the following abuses in the recruitment process:

  • Deception about the nature and conditions of work.
  • Retention of passports.
  • Illegal wage deductions.
  • Debt bondage linked to repayment of recruitment fees.
  • Threats if they express a desire to leave their employers, coupled with threats of subsequent expulsion from a country.

For some seafood supply chains, including fishing vessels on the high seas, work occurs under multiple jurisdictions and exploitation during the migration process is well documented. The worker, captain, vessel owner, vessel flag, fishing operations, and ports visited may represent different countries. The many potential jurisdictions may make it challenging to assess risk accurately, map national recruitment laws, and enforce legal practices.

Despite these challenges, the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights establishes the responsibility of businesses to respect internationally recognized human rights within their operations and supply chains, including during the recruitment process. Companies need to address recruitment-related risk as it is an essential component to reducing business risks, strengthening company resilience, and building a brand of social responsibility.

Human rights and labor abuse during the recruitment process may be associated with the following different types of risks for companies:

  • Legal
  • Reputational and brand value
  • Resilience/stability of supply chain
  • Barriers to trade
  • Eligibility for investment funding
  • Threats to participation in collaborations or public-sector funding streams

Evaluating and improving the recruitment process is crucial to address and mitigate the risk of forced labor, debt bondage, and human trafficking. When workers are required to pay for recruitment-related fees and costs, as well as pay brokers or others for access, bribes, or other undisclosed fees, they take on an increasingly high debt burden that may bind them to their employers and increase their vulnerability to exploitation.

Prospective employers, public or private, or their intermediaries, and not the workers, should bear the cost of recruitment.

ILO General Principles and Operational Guidelines for Fair Recruitment

Ready to Take Action?

A public commitment to responsible recruitment signals corporate investment in the topic and encourages transparency and accountability toward meeting ambitious goals.

  • Commit to implementing responsible recruitment practices, including: 
    • Employer Pays Principles.
    • Disclosure to workers of all fees and related costs prior to accepting the job.
    • Reimbursement of recruitment fees and related costs previously paid by workers.
    • Remediation of recruitment-related issues.
  • Inform suppliers of recruitment-related commitments through expectations letters or other communications.

See Commit Roadmap Step

Companies may not have expertise in global recruitment and its contribution to forced labor. Investing in knowledge and resources, particularly ILO principles and guidance, will help meet responsible recruitment goals. 

See Learn Roadmap Step

Companies that map recruitment channels and gather data regarding their supply chains’ recruitment processes have more visibility and capability to address human rights risks.

  • Assess recruitment-related risks in supply chains, such as fees and related costs, labor protections in countries of employment, and the prevalence of migrant and other potentially vulnerable workers (e.g., women, seasonal workers) in the workforce.
  • Map labor recruitment in supply chains.
  • Evaluate recruitment practices throughout your company’s supply chains, as verified by workers themselves.

See Assess Roadmap Step

Investing in improvements that benefit workers will build a stronger social responsibility program and may help reduce turnover and increase job satisfaction.

  • Ensure grievance mechanisms are inclusive of issues that occurred during the recruitment process.
  • Invest in pilots or research regarding recruitment practices in your company’s supply chains or regions of focus.

See Build Capacity Roadmap Step

Recruitment is a cross-sectoral and global issue but has unique regional contexts. To make lasting improvements, companies must collaborate with other private sector partners and rely on the expertise of local stakeholders.

See Collaborate Roadmap Step

Recruitment fees contribute to debt bondage, a practice that leads to forced labor. Reimbursement of recruitment fees is an important way to improve the lives of workers.

Document steps taken to prevent future fees and related costs from being incurred by workers, including partnering with trusted recruitment agencies that implement ILO guidelines or moving recruitment efforts in-house.

See Remediate Roadmap Step

Remedy first and over time improve systems to achieve responsible recruitment.

See Iterate Roadmap Step

Communicating responsible recruitment efforts provides accountability to stakeholders and demonstrates leadership and understanding.

See Communicate Roadmap Step

The Roadmap

RISE provides guidance for companies to take action in 8 key areas.

explore roadmap

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