On 22nd May, The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) Human Rights Coalition (HRC) hosted a webinar in collaboration with its partner, AIM-Progress, on practical examples of how businesses can repay Worker-paid recruitment fees. The webinar was the first in a series hosted by the HRC and AIM-Progress’ Responsible Recruitment Working Group. The objective of the webinar series is to drive dialogues among peers to share best practices, discussion common challenges, and explore innovative ways to remediate forced labour issues in the consumer goods industry. This work complements the HRC’s mission to advance human rights due diligence (HRDD) in the industry in order to enable respect for Workers’ rights in value chains globally.

The webinar was moderated by Rosey Hurst, founder of Impactt Limited. Impactt has been a longtime partner of the CGF, and its guidance on the repayment of Worker-paid recruitment fees inspired the CGF and AIM-Progress’ Guidance on the Repayment of Worker-Paid Recruitment Fees released in October 2022. The Guidance offers in-depth recommendations for how companies can respect the CGF’s second Priority Industry Principle, which states that no Worker should pay for a job, and the Employer Pays Principle (EPP). 

Requiring Workers, particularly migrants, to pay fees to obtain a job is a common practice in many countries and sectors within the consumer goods industry, but is very problematic as it can lead to cases of debt bondage. Debt bondage is an indicator of forced labour because it can result in workers being unable to freely leave their employer until their debt is paid. According to the International Labour Organization, around one-fifth of all people in forced labour exploitation in the private economy are in situations of debt bondage.

The webinar opened with anecdotes from Melissa Cheoh Hooi Gaik, Director, Financial Controller, Top Glove Corp BHD, and Renaka Ramachandran, Chief Financial Officer, Sime Darby, who described their companies’ responses to the US Customs and Border Protections (CBP’s) withhold and release order (WRO) leveraged against both companies in 2020. Both Top Glove and Sime Darby were among eight companies in the Malaysian plantation and glove manufacturing sectors subjected to a WRO on their products by the CBP over forced labour allegations. The WROs were lifted off both companies in 2021 and 2023 respectively. Audience members were able to ask questions about the practical steps both companies took to identify, address, and remedy the forced labour risks in their business practices. Melissa and Renaka also provided insights into additional actions taken to help prevent these risks in the future.

The discussion was complementary to the HRC’s efforts to support Coalition members as they implement HRDD systems in their own operations, as well as the HRC’s People Positive Palm Project, which is doing the same with HRC members’ palm oil suppliers in Malaysia. 

Businesses looking to explore additional resources and guidance on due diligence, the identification and repayment of recruitment fees, and other human rights issues are invited to contact the HRC team for more information. CGF members interested in attending future webinars can also contact the HRC team.

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