Migrant Workers

The illegal and often abusive treatment of migrant workers is one of the most pressing reputational risks for global corporations

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May 30, 2017 – Online MCAT CARS Practice

Question: What is your summary of the author’s main ideas. Post your own answer in the comments before reading those made by others.

The illegal and often abusive treatment of migrant workers is one of the most pressing reputational risks for global corporations, according to a report released on Monday.

Recent exposés concerning forced labour – from the Thai seafood industry to the Turkish garment sector – reveal how pervasive the problem of migrant abuse is.

It is rare for multinationals to employ illegal migrants directly, but claiming ignorance about abusive practices in their supply chains is no longer a defence, says the report. “There’s a public assumption that companies are responsible for all the workers that contribute to the end product that they sell,” says Alexandra Channer, principal human rights analyst at Verisk Maplecroft and co-author of the report.

“Most companies haven’t mapped beyond their tier 1 [primary] suppliers, so they have this hidden deep part of their supply chain where they are vulnerable to serious human rights allegations that they might be totally unaware of.”

The notion that the world’s largest corporations are profiting from abusive labour practices is, regrettably, nothing new. A stinging report from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) recently estimated that the world’s 50 largest companies indirectly employ 116m “hidden” undocumented workers – equivalent to 94% of all the workers connected to their business.

Under international norms such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, companies are expected to undertake due diligence on their supply chains, says ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow. Yet few do. “The evidence of increasing insecure work informality and forced labour is mounting. There is no moral compass for business that makes profit from exploitation. This must change,” says Burrow.

Many of ITUC’s recommendations coincide with those highlighted in Verisk Maplecroft’s report: provide a safe working environment, end short-term contracts, pay a minimum wage and allow for collective bargaining. None are impossible. With their cash reserves alone, the world’s 25 largest companies could pay informal workers in their supply chain $5,000 extra per year, ITUC calculates.

Getting a clearer view of working conditions among suppliers and sub-suppliers is becoming simpler too. For instance, Sedex, a specialist in supply chain data, provides 38,000 suppliers in 150 countries with a self-assessment questionnaire that corporations can access to determine their exposure to human rights risks. A handful of brands, including UK retailers such as Marks & Spencer and Boden, are also experimenting with mobile technology [pdf] to enable workers to anonymously report working conditions in real time.

Even if such systems were faultless (which they’re not: suppliers can fudge self-assessment forms; vulnerable workers may not have phones), the problem of migrant abuse will persist. Migrant workers and refugees frequently find themselves in situations of effective forced labour even before they turn up at the factory gates.

The only long-term solution is to tackle the issue at source, says Lara White, senior labour mobility specialist at the International Organisation for Migration. That means stamping out the unscrupulous recruitment agencies that oversee the so-called migrant “corridors” feeding global demand for cheap foreign labour.

“What you have is a worker who is being brought into a job and is in debt already,” says White, who adds that some workers pay as much as two years’ salary to recruiters.

“If there is a breakdown in the employer-employee relationship, they [workers] are either told they have to stay until they have paid off their debt or they can leave but they may still owe money back home, so they don’t have realistic choices about leaving exploitative situations.”

According to the International Labour Organization’s private employment convention recruitment fees should be met by employers, not workers. Not only does such an approach protect workers, but it should also drive criminality out of the system: fees would normalise, selection processes would closer reflect business needs and expectations of both employer and employee would be better understood from the start.

“These [exorbitant fees] are not an aberration – it’s the way the business model operates throughout the global south,” says Neill Wilkins, a project manager at the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB). “The fees that migrants are paying bear no relationship whatsoever to the true costs of recruitment.”

IHRB is the co-promoter of the Dhaka Principles for Migration with Dignity, which set out 10 measures to reduce the risk of migrant abuse in corporate supply chains. Top of the list is the “employer pays” principle. Big business has failed to publicly back this simple principle, with the exception of the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC), which recently changed its code of conduct to prohibit the payment of recruitment fees by workers.

The EICC’s revised code of conduct sets a bar for global companies in other respects too. As well as banning fee payments, it prohibits abusive practices such as withholding workers’ passports and placing unreasonable restrictions on their movements. Migrant workers must also be provided with a written employment agreement in their native language prior to departing from their country of origin.

Adapted from theguardian.

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This was an article on Economics.

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Jack Westin
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20 Comments


  1. migrants abused, recruitment fees should be paid by employers

    Reply

  2. MIP: abusive treatment migrants =/= new; recruitment fees = biz responsibility –> decrease criminality

    Reply

  3. MI: Companies are responsible fixing the problems of migrant abuse (e.g. Poor working conditions, predatory recruitment fees, etc.) involved in the production of their goods/services. The company is primarily responsible for the assessment and implementation of better migrant practices.

    Reply

  4. companies abuse human rights of migrant workers by ripping them off in recruiting fees -> Author said this must stop!

    Reply

  5. In the work industry, large corporations are known to conduct migrant abuse and forced labor. The passage informs the audience about the difficulties migrants face, such as paying recruitment fees to employers.
    The author seems to be critical of the organizations that conduct this unfair treatment to employers, and seems to give several examples on how corporations can fix this problem.

    Reply

  6. Many large companies are exploiting migrant workers: A good way to stop this is to force companies to pay recruitment fees.

    Author characterizes the nature and extent of abuses before diving into possible solutions.

    Reply

  7. MI: corporations are ultimately responsible for the abuse that their workers take on
    MI2: solution is for employers to pay the recruitment agencies as opposed to workers paying the recruitment agencies

    Reply

  8. MIP: Worker abuse = problem + pervasive; workers don’t have much power in employer/ employee relationship

    Reply

  9. MIP: abuse of migrant labor
    need to stop abuse at the source (companies), their efforts at monitoring are filled with holes and easily faked

    Reply

  10. Migrant exploitation is persistent and common

    Reply

  11. MI #1: Large corporations maintain willful ignorance of unethical treatment of undocumented migrant workers who produce their products. These rights violations include recruitment agencies forcing laborers to pay exorbitant recruitment. More industries need to engage in legal oversight that includes requiring the employers to pay for recruitment fees.

    Reply

  12. Migrant workers= abused
    MW abuse=old +increasing + must change (Burrow)

    Reply

  13. Migrant workers are being abused; companies are responsible for making sure this does not happen but are not doing their job with even some of them covering this issue up. This problem is old and needs to stop and the long term way of doing it is to target recruitment agencies to stop workers from paying recruitment fees. Author seems concerned about the matter and is disapproving of the practice.

    Reply

  14. Illegal practices with migrant workers is a problem that is becoming worse and must be fixed.

    Reply

  15. Migrant worker’s abuse is rampant and multi-corporation can do this through stamping out unscrupulous recruitment agencies

    Reply

  16. treatment of mw = problem (big companies)
    abuse = always around
    solution = rid of mw agencies, company = responsible

    Reply

  17. MIP: Migrant abuse comes from illegal hiring; work condition=can’t monitor; hire fee=mobility restriction. Tone: neutral

    Reply

  18. Theme: More measures should be undertaken to stem the exploitation of migrant workers, MNCs who exploit forced labor should be regulated, have no excuse for claiming ignorance wrt their hiring practices. Power should be taken from recruitment agencies that take advantage of migrant workers via checks and balances.
    Tone: informative, neutral, pragmatic, sympathetic to the plight of migrant workers who are subjected to forced labor in foreign land
    Illegal and abusive treatment of migrant workers is a big risk for MNCs (posited but not substantiated with examples, no risks mentioned)
    HR departments in MNCs are not conscientious to mapping out their human resource supply and companies become vulnerable to human rights allegations, profiting from abusive labor practices when they are capable of paying for the labor of these unaccounted informal workers (evidence: cash reserves alone…could pay)
    No excuse not to map out their human resource pool (evidence: getting a clearer view…simpler too). Even if checks and balances were in place, root of the problem not solved (evidence: migrant abuse will persist; examples given end of passage: being heavily in debt so they get exploited, withholding passports, unreasonable restrictions on movements). Author recommends long-term solution –stamp out unscrupulous recruitment agencies that continue to fuel demand for cheap foreign labor) which serves to remove criminality from system, normalize recruitment fees, more accurate selection processes to reflect business needs and employee skillsets, employee expectations aligned with employer’s

    Reply

  19. (first 10 paragraphs) MIP: abuse/forced labor of mig. workers = pervasive and must stop; tone = neutral

    Reply

  20. Corporations are profiting from abusive labour practices. Solution = get rid of recruitment agencies.

    Reply

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