The world of work has been changing at an increasingly rapid pace, in consequence of structural developments – such as the expansion of the gig economy, automation and artificial intelligence – and of sudden shocks, like the global financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. Against this background, ensuring fair treatment and sustaining the workers’ rights is more critical than ever.
Already in 2014, the International Labour Organization (ILO) launched the ILO Fair Recruitment Initiative (FRI), a programme dedicated to promoting fairness and social justice for workers across the globe, as part of the ILO Director General’s call for a Fair Migration Agenda. The initiative responds to the raised concerns about reported abuses of migrant workers and the growing role of unscrupulous employment agencies, informal labour intermediaries and other operators acting outside the legal and regulatory framework that target, in particular, low-skilled workers. Migration is a global phenomenon that impacts millions of individuals and communities worldwide. The ILO estimates that there are over 150 million migrant workers in the world today. Often, migrant workers face unique challenges, including discrimination, exploitation, and limited access to labour rights. The ILO, through the two phases of the FRI Strategy (2014-2019 and 2021-2025), strives to make a difference in the lives of those who leave their home countries in search of better opportunities.
Understanding the Fair Recruitment
The ILO, as the first specialized agency of the United Nations for the world of work, has been championing labour rights and decent work for over a century, with its extensive experience and unwavering commitment. In this light, FRI is a combination of global policy dialogue, knowledge and data generation with on-the-ground interventions. This comprehensive approach addresses critical issues such as forced labour, gender equality in the workplace, and social protection for vulnerable workers. By working in collaboration with governments, employers and workers, the ILO aims to create lasting change.
Recruitment is typically the first step in establishing an employment relationship, and the experiences of the worker during the recruitment stage contribute to the establishment of their working conditions and migration outcomes. Many elements that make workers vulnerable to exploitation occur in the recruitment phase. For instance, deception about the nature and conditions of the work, payment of recruitment fees, resulting in debt bondage, and confiscation of passports and identity documents occur at the beginning of an employment relationship. Fair recruitment can be understood as “Recruitment carried out within the law, in line with international labour standards, and with respect for human rights, without discrimination and protecting workers from abusive situations”.
The ILO’s approach to addressing labour migration challenges
The 2021-2025 Fair Recruitment Initiative Strategy is grounded in four pillars. Namely, Enhancing, exchanging and disseminating global knowledge on national and international recruitment processes; Improving laws, policies and enforcement to promote fair recruitment; Promoting fair business practices; and Empowering and protecting workers.
The ILO Fair Recruitment Initiative adopts a multi-faceted approach:
Awareness and advocacy: The ILO raises awareness about the rights and vulnerabilities of migrant workers, advocating for policies and practices that protect their rights and dignity.
Capacity building: The initiative offers training and capacity-building programmes for governments, and in particular the labour inspectorates that are in charge of monitoring and enforcement, but also for the employers and workers’ organizations, to improve the management of labour migration and ensure fair treatment.
Policy development: The ILO works with governments to develop and implement fair migration policies, including labour standards, recruitment practices, and social protection measures.
Data collection and research: By collecting data and conducting research, the ILO identifies trends and challenges in labour migration, informing evidence-based policies and interventions.
The path forward
The ILO FRI has delivered significant results in the targeted regions, global resources to guide the governments in policy making on fair recruitment, promoted fair recruitment to employers, and empowered the workers with knowledge generating engagement tools, including the development of ILO General principles for fair recruitment, Establishing Fair Recruitment Processes: ILO training toolkit, Trade union action to promote fair recruitment for migrant workers, Recruitment Advisor – Employment Review Platform, Use of digital technology in the recruitment of migrant workers. However many challenges remain in need of acting upon. Potential financial constraints, political hesitations and resistance, and the persistence of labour rights violations can pose persistent hurdles. However, the ILO remains committed in its mission, continually adapting and strategizing to overcome these challenges. The Fair Recruitment Initiative plans to expand efforts to combat forced labour and modern slavery, address the impact of technology on the world of work, and promote fair treatment in global supply chains. The ILO, together with its partners, including the Office of the Co-ordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities, is committed to building a world where fair treatment and labour rights are not just ideals but lived realities. The importance of the FRI extends far beyond individual workplaces or regions. Fair treatment, decent work, and labour rights are not only ethical imperatives but also essential for creating secure and prosperous societies. Workers who are treated fairly are more productive, healthier, and better able to support their families and communities. As the world continues to grapple with migration challenges, the ILO Fair Recruitment Initiative remains steadfast in its commitment to advancing fair treatment and labour rights for migrant workers.