How every business can help end labour exploitation

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By Carolyn Wincer, 1st February 2022

Travelife for Accommodation explains how every business can influence human rights and labour issues in a positive way by employing some simple yet effective responsible recruitment practices.

Responsible recruitment involves practices that prevent discrimination and exploitation when you hire new staff. They are relatively simple to employ and as more businesses take this issue seriously, these practices have the potential to be extremely powerful in preventing labour exploitation around the world.

Although you may be confident that your business is not engaging in any form of labour exploitation, it is still essential that you put a strong focus on preventing this problem by having robust recruitment policies and practices. The obvious benefit is reducing legal and reputational risks to your own business, however, you are also helping to create a climate where it is harder for human exploitation to take place.

Responsible recruitment reduces legal and reputational risks for your own business, and helps to create a climate where it is harder for human exploitation to take place.

Understanding modern slavery and labour exploitation

Modern slavery is forced or bonded labour. It means that a person is forced to work, usually in poor conditions with limited or no pay, because the employer has made it virtually impossible for them to leave. For example, if a foreign national has their passport taken off them by an employer, they are unable to leave the country they are working in or to work for a different company, perhaps even being at risk of breaking local immigration laws. 

Another common factor in modern slavery is when people are forced to work off some kind of bond such as a deposit or recruitment fee before they are allowed to leave, yet their wages are so low that it is impossible for them to ever pay back this debt. In some of the worst yet surprisingly common cases, people have been taken from their home country under false promises of legitimate work, sometimes with threats made against their loved ones or themselves if they subsequently try to leave.

Forced labour is widespread, even in countries with strong labour laws.

Forced labour is widespread, even in countries with strong labour laws and it can be difficult for law-abiding businesses to spot. For example, often criminals will set up seemingly legitimate enterprises, such as a cleaning or laundry company, then send bonded workers to an unsuspecting customer such as a hotel, restaurant or farm. The workers are unlikely to speak up about their predicament due to threats made against them, leaving this part of the global workforce especially vulnerable.

Polices that will help

The first step is to ensure that your own policies do not involve any common indicators of forced labour. This means having policies and procedures that ensure the following are embedded into your business practices:

You cover 100% of your recruitment fees: Your policies should ensure that no employee has to pay any fee to be considered as a candidate, or as a condition of their employment with you. 

You do not withhold important documents: If you withhold things like passports, visas and bank cards as a condition of employment, you are preventing employees from moving freely as they wish, and from carrying out simple tasks such as opening a bank account or finding a house to rent. Even if your intentions are innocent, such as ensuring employees have a safe place to store important documents, you must ensure they have 24/7 access to these with no more than a few hours’ notice and without any kind of retaliation.

You do not take deposits, bonds or pre-pay wages: If you put employees in a position where they have to work off loans or meet certain conditions to have bonds returned to them, then you are curtailing their freedom to leave your business. Whilst some businesses have legitimate reasons for giving employees loans, there must be a way for them to be able to leave the company before they pay them back, and we recommend using the laws and courts in your country to deal with debt recovery in these situations, rather than bonding staff to you.

You do not withhold wages or property if someone leaves: If an employee leaves your business, even as a result of serious misconduct, they must be paid for anything they are entitled to and be able to easily collect any of their personal belongings.

You check your high-risk suppliers: Whilst it is unreasonable for most businesses to check the labour conditions of every supplier they work with, it is important to ensure that your most important contracted suppliers, particularly those that employ low-skilled labour, are checked to ensure they are respecting human rights and employing fair labour practices. In addition to this being a great way to influence change, it reduces your risk of inadvertently supporting a supplier who is engaged in human exploitation.

You proactively prevent discrimination: Sometimes forced labour is not taking place, but certain ethnic or social groups are consistently subjected to poorer conditions, lower wages and less opportunities than others. You can start to address this by coming up with a public anti-discrimination statement, but real change can only happen if you carefully think out and implement procedures that ensure every candidate is treated fairly and equally in terms of decisions around recruitment, pay, benefits, opportunities and working conditions.

Use your influence

Every time a business takes a strong stand on ending labour exploitation, it helps. However, your changes will only be effective if people know about them, especially other businesses that rely on your custom. For that reason, we encourage you to proactively communicate your policies to all of the suppliers you work with, paying special attention to those that provide you with labour. That includes entities such as building contractors, laundry facilities and recruitment agencies.

We recommend that you develop a policy that includes a ‘zero tolerance’ statement covering labour exploitation and outlines your responsible recruitment practices. You should send this to all of your suppliers and, going forward, consider adding it to supplier contracts.

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