Creating a people positive industry
Forced labour remains the most salient human rights impact in the consumer goods industry and taking action to address it must be a priority for all businesses. Recent statistics from the ILO indicate that cases of forced labour have increased in the past ten years: in 2021, 28 million people were victims of forced labour, up from 25 million in 2016. Importantly, the ILO found the overwhelming majority (63%) of these cases were in the private sector – meaning businesses must play a key role in addressing this endemic issue.
In the consumer goods industry, forced labour can manifest in different ways and isn’t limited to periods of employment. Unethical recruitment practices can also be indicators of forced labour, which means action is required to address and prevent forced labour risks that exist before and during employment. The ILO has developed 11 indicators to help identify possible cases of forced labour. These indicators represent the most common signs or “clues” that point to the possible existence of a forced labour case.
Importantly, these indicators may be found at any point of the recruitment and employment process, meaning forced labour can occur while a worker is applying for a job and while working in the job itself. With an estimated 17.3 million people in cases of forced labour exploitation in the private sector, it is critical that businesses ensure steps are taken to identify when, where, and why workers may be at risk for forced labour throughout the value chain.
Responsible recruitment and employment are essential principles for businesses to uphold in order to address, remedy, and prevent risks for forced labour. To help ensure workers are responsibly recruited and employed in their value chains, HRC members are taking several steps:
Coalition members also look to support victims of forced labour by exploring innovative methods for remediation. One common indicator of forced labour is the presence of Worker-paid recruitment fees and costs. These are a common business model within the recruitment industry in some regions of the world and are an important topic to address in the conversation around fighting forced labour. As some Workers in global supply chains – particularly migrant Workers – may be coerced to pay fees to recruitment agencies in order to secure jobs, they oftentimes must take out high-interest loans to pay these fees, creating financial insecurity. They may also fall into situations of debt bondage, which exists when labourers, sometimes with their families, are forced to work for an employer in order to pay off their own debts or those they have inherited.
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 ILO, around one-fifth of all people in forced labour exploitation in the private economy are in situations of debt bondage.
As a result, the second Priority Industry Principle, in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the Dhaka Principles for Migration with Dignity, and the Employer Pays Principle (EPP), states that no Worker should pay for a job, and HRC members are working to ensure this Principle is upheld in their supply chains. In 2022, in partnership with AIM-Progress, the HRC released Guidance on the Repayment of Worker-paid Recruitment Fees and Related Costs to offer step-by-step guidance to employers on how to approach the topic of remediation if recruitment fees are detected in their supply chain.
We are also working to eradicate forced labour by leveraging the power of policy environments to protect Workers’ rights. As a Coalition, we leverage the collective voice of our members to advocate for strong policy environments that help ensure responsible recruitment and employment practices become the norm globally. Together, we provide industry feedback on existing and emerging legislative frameworks. For example, through our People Positive Palm Project we are engaging with governments in Malaysia, and working with the Fair Labor Association and International Organization for Migration to engage with sending and receiving countries in key migrant labour corridors.
This engagement builds off the CGF’s history of hosting roundtable dialogues and working together with governments to address regional concerns regarding forced labour, responsible recruitment, and migrant Workers, particularly in southeast Asia.