On April 5, 2011, STR Responsible Sourcing held a Multi-stakeholder Roundtable in Los Angeles to discuss the implementation of The California Transparency in Supply Chains Act. As one of the presenters at this Roundtable, Rachelle Jackson, Senior Director of Sustainability Practices at STR Responsible Sourcing, presented materials on migrant workers and their vulnerability to exploitation:
In the past years, the number of economic migrants – migrants who strategically choose to leave their home country in order to find employment overseas and are hired to do so under contract – has significantly increased. Formal recruitment processes have been established between so called sending and receiving countries – the sending country benefiting from remittances provided by nationals working overseas and the receiving countries benefiting from the expanded labor force. However, there is the risk of exploitation in this migrant worker recruitment process.
The types of fees that are being collected by workers in both the receiving and sending country are numerous. They range from commitment fees over transport fees to so-called runaway insurance. Workers who do not have the money to pay those up-front fees often take out loans with interest rates ranging from 10-30%. So, whatever wages they do earn in the receiving country are soon diminished by debt payments. Even if workers want to return home due to poor working conditions or domestic instability that is a result of them being away from their family, the workers do not have enough money to pay the loan they took out or even the ticket back home, thus forcing them to stay on. In some receiving countries, there is no possibility of changing the employer, as the work visa only allows them to work for one specific employer. Therefore, legal migrants may become illegal or irregular during their stay, increasing potential vulnerability.
The foreign labor force in the United Arab Emirates is 90%, in Malaysia 20% and Thailand 10%. The risk of abuses like slavery and human trafficking in these countries is high. One example of making the public aware of migrant labor abuses Rachelle pointed out was the 2006 report issued by the National Labor Committee titled U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement Descends into Human Trafficking and Involuntary Servitude.
STR-RS has had the opportunity to work with companies on assessing recruitment processes in Nepal, Malaysia, and the Philippines by referencing local laws for recruiters. This activity is not currently in the scope of companies’ social compliance programs, but some have decided to venture beyond due to the high risk of potential abuses before an employee reaches the factory floor.
In Nepal, for example, the recruiter utilized sub-recruiters which created more ambiguity about the employees hiring process and potential fees collected or contracts agreed upon. Often, workers do not recall what they paid along the road to employment. Access to this information may only come through an investigative process outside the facility. Thus, going beyond the walls of the employer is important to assess the risk of human trafficking.
An example of a company that has established standards specifically related to migrant workers is the Arcadia Group. This U.K.-based company has developed guidelines explicitly for migrant workers. This is a step in the right direction to address the supply chain risk of slavery and human trafficking. The California Transparency in Supply Chains Act is definitely putting pressure on companies to go beyond the current norm of social compliance and address issues like recruitment processes where employees are vulnerable to abuse.
Stay tuned for more roundtable contributions and click here to view the first blog in this series - Kay Buck's (Executive Director, Coaltion to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking) contribution to the Los Angeles roundtable.