The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training on Wednesday launched a code of ethics for private recruitment agencies to follow in order to better protect migrant workers.

Consisting of 12 articles, the code was drafted by the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies (Acra) and the Manpower Association of Cambodia (MAC) with the ministry’s support.

It was launched during an event organised by Acra and MAC and attended by around 100 government officials and representatives from private recruitment agencies and NGOs.

To date, Cambodia has sent around 1.2 million workers to six countries through public and private agencies.

Minister Ith Sam Heng said during the event that the ministry was ready to support the recruitment agencies to implement the code of ethics in an effective manner to promote and protect the rights of all migrant workers.

“This code of ethics must be put in place beginning with the agencies themselves, who must constantly follow it and care about the rights of migrant workers,” he said.

Sam Heng said Cambodia has sent its 1.2 million migrant workers to Thailand, South Korea, Malaysia, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong. They send over $2 billion home each year to support their families, he said.

He noted that 120 private agencies have been registered with the ministry to send migrant workers overseas, and this has improved the process.

The code of ethics says all private recruitment agencies must respect national and international laws as a basis, be responsible and follow the code when recruiting, training, managing and sending migrant workers abroad to ensure their safety and the protection of their rights.

It also requires all private recruitment agencies to respect and implement the code in a transparent manner, including by advertising it and providing accurate information to workers.

They must also contribute to reducing expenses and service fees for migrant workers.

Although this code of ethics does not provide for any punishment, MAC president Orn Bunhak said it would contribute to strengthening all agencies before the law.

“In the past, some recruitment agencies did not duly implement any code when sending migrant workers abroad.

“This code of ethics will be a tool and a reference point to be used in daily operations of private recruitment agencies in their recruiting, training and managing of workers in a responsible manner,” he said.

Bridge JC Co Ltd CEO Mar Chansim, who sends workers to Japan, said the code can play a role in supporting accountable and competitive work by the agencies in line with the law.

Chansim said he is worried that not all agencies will follow the code in its entirety. He suggested that authorities make sure they do.

“In the past, our agency already followed some points in the code, but not all agencies will be able to comply with it straight away. It takes time,” he said.

Anna Engblom, the International Labour Organisation’s senior manager for the Triangle Programme in the Asean region, said it is still too costly for many migrant workers to find work aboard.

She said once tallied, the expenses sometimes eat up nine months of their salaries or more. This is why the code is important as it will ensure expenses are reduced, she said.

“To make this code of ethics valuable, we have to have a system to monitor and evaluate it, which we will create next year,” she said.