Human trafficking, forced labour and debt bondage occur across the world, in the manufacture and delivery of our goods, in building our houses and skyscrapers, in our homes, restaurants, car washes and brick kilns. But increasingly, consumers are making their voices heard. Customers do not want to purchase goods produced with forced labour.
CIients and contractors are demanding businesses do better to erase these abuses from their supply chains. Countries are putting in place ‘modern slavery’ legislation to ensure that businesses guard against the risk of forced labour.
This is increasingly driving demand for fair and ethical recruitment of workers, especially migrant workers. In response, many multinational enterprises are reassessing their supply chains with a particular focus on protecting the labour and human rights’ of workers.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has recognised the crucial link between paying for a job, and the risk of exploitation, abuse and human trafficking since the adoption of the Convention on Private Recruitment Agencies (No 181) in 1997. That is why the convention states clearly that ‘workers shall not be charged directly or indirectly, in whole or in part, any fees or related costs for their recruitment.’
In Cambodia, private recruitment agencies play an important role in labour migration. They provide a service that many migrant workers need – connections to work abroad and assistance getting the right documents prior to travel.
But, the ways in which agencies recruit workers has a direct effect on a worker’s migration experience, particularly the protection of their human rights. Where workers are charged excessive fees, they are more likely to be ‘trapped’ in their job and unable to leave.
The ILO works with governments and recruitment agencies around Asean to move towards realising the goal that no worker should pay for a job. Cambodian recruitment agencies are also participating in striving to this goal.
This month, the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies (Acra) and the Manpower Association of Cambodia (MAC), in conjunction with the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, launched a Code of Conduct for Cambodian Private Recruitment Agencies.
The code is a practical tool, containing 12 core principles that, if effectively implemented, will help to ensure private recruitment agencies are promoting and protecting the rights of migrant workers. For example, the code clearly instructs agencies to reduce costs and fees for migration with a gradual transition to moving towards a zero fee model.
The finalisation of this code is a significant step forwards. It is a robust document, reflecting domestic and international labour standards. It is also a powerful tool for migrant workers, helping to clarify what they can expect of a private recruitment agency.
Private recruitment agencies are strongly encouraged to adopt the code and make every effort to improve their recruitment practices. Given international businesses emphasis on human rights, adherence to the code will assist recruitment agencies in expanding their business in the international market.
Implicit in the code is the belief, shared by Acra and MAC, that recognition of human rights and implementation of responsible business practices is not only the right thing to do – it can also be profitable.
Launching the code is an important step, yet there is still much work to be done. To ensure the code is useful, Acra and MAC must continue to play a leadership role and encourage recruitment agencies to become signatories. Once the code has support from agencies, it can be used to assess compliance against the code’s minimum standards.
Alongside this initiative from the recruitment agency associations, the government has a responsibility to migrant workers and businesses. The labour ministry should also continue to support Acra and MAC’s efforts, and play their complementary role of ensuring that recruitment agencies follow the conditions in the licences and the law.
The ILO was encouraged to see statements by government officials indicating that Cambodia is ready to cap the amounts chargeable to migrant workers under the law, bringing Cambodia in line with Myanmar and Thailand that place strict regulations on how much workers can pay.
Since the passing of the sub-decree 190 on labour migration nearly a decade ago, there has been a gap relating to the regulation of fees and costs payable by migrant workers. The ILO is ready to provide any assistance required to close this gap.
Cambodia became a member of the ILO over 50 years ago, and the Code of Conduct is another achievement in our longstanding partnership with the Cambodian government, employers and workers. The ILO remains committed to support Cambodia in making the most out of migration.
Anna Engblom is Chief Technical Adviser to the Triangle in Asean programme. Since 2015, through the Triangle in Asean programme, the ILO has been delivering technical assistance and support with the overall goal of maximising the contribution of labour migration to equitable, inclusive and stable growth.