International Migrants Day and Operating with Respect for the Rights of Migrant Workers

iStock_000000907516XSmall(2)December 18 is International Migrants Day.  Companies in a wide variety of industry sectors must address the human rights-related risks specific to employing migrant workers. These workers are especially vulnerable to human rights abuses, including poor working conditions, discriminatory treatment, physical abuse, and forced labor.

Current guidance for companies seeking to understand and address risks to migrant workers includes the Dhaka Principles for Migration with Dignity. Launched in 2012 on International Migrants Day, and developed by the Institute for Human Rights and Business, the Dhaka Principles are built around two core principles:

  • Core Principle A – All workers are treated equally and without discrimination.
  • Core Principle B – All workers enjoy the protection of employment law.

The Principles aim to ensure that migrant workers receive fair and responsible treatment during both the recruitment and employment stages of their engagement with employers.  They are based on the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and international human rights standards, including the core conventions of the International Labour Organization. The Principles include the following:

  • Principle 1No fees are charged to migrant workers. The employer should bear the full costs of recruitment and placement. Migrant workers are not charged any fees for recruitment or placement.
  • Principle 2All migrant worker contracts are clear and transparent. Migrant workers should be provided with written contracts in a language each worker understands, with all terms and conditions explained clearly, and the worker’s assent obtained without coercion.
  • Principle 3Policies and procedures are inclusive. Migrant workers’ rights should be explicitly referred to in employer and migrant recruiter public human rights policy statements, relevant operational policies and procedures addressing human rights responsibilities.
  • Principle 4No migrant workers’ passports or identity documents are retained. Migrant workers should have free and complete access to their own passport, identity documents, and residency papers, and enjoy freedom of movement.
  • Principle 5 Wages are paid regularly, directly and on time. Migrant workers should be paid what they are due on time, regularly and directly.
  • Principle 6 The right to worker representation is respected. Migrant workers should have the same rights to join and form trade unions and to bargain collectively as other workers.
  • Principle 7 Working conditions are safe and decent. Migrant workers should enjoy safe and decent conditions of work, free from harassment, any form of intimidation or inhuman treatment. They should receive adequate health and safety provision and training in relevant languages.
  • Principle 8Living conditions are safe and decent. Migrant workers should enjoy safe and hygienic living conditions, and safe transport between the workplace and their accommodation. Migrant workers should not be denied freedom of movement, or confined to their living quarters.
  • Principle 9Access to a remedy is provided. Migrant workers should have access to judicial remedy and to credible grievance mechanisms, without fear of recrimination or dismissal.
  • Principle 10Freedom to change employment is respected, and safe, timely return is guaranteed. Migrant workers should be guaranteed provision for return home on contract completion and in exceptional situations. They should not, however, be prevented from seeking or changing employment in the host country on completion of first contract or after two years, whichever is less.

Understanding and addressing the challenges specific to migrant workers is a challenging exercise for companies. Companies must identify and evaluate the extent to which they, and their suppliers, are employing migrant labor, in circumstances in which third parties, including recruitment agencies, often play a critical role. Understanding the terms and conditions under which workers were originally recruited if often challenging, especially in contexts in which recruitment often takes place far from the ultimate work site.

Notably, as companies seek to address the potential human rights risks specific to migrant workers, they are also increasingly being asked to make public disclosures regarding their efforts to mitigate those risks. For example, as discussed in previous posts, statutory requirements like the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act require companies to disclose their efforts, if any, to address the risks of slavery and human trafficking in their supply chains.

Ultimately, more and more companies are going to need to confront human rights concerns specific to migrant workers in the coming years. In a previous post, we noted that the pending amendments to the U.S. Government’s Federal Acquisition Regulation (“FAR”). Intended to Executive Order 13627 (“Strengthening Protections Against Trafficking in Persons in Federal Contracts”) and Title XVII of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (“Ending Trafficking in Government Contracting”). The proposed FAR amendments seek to ensure that U.S. government contractors operate consistently with many of the standards set forth in documents like the Dhaka Principles. In the United Kingdom, the pending Modern Slavery Bill also seeks to address the risks of human trafficking and slavery in corporate supply chains. These new and emerging requirements will force companies in a wide range of industry sectors to evaluate migrant labor usage and associated risks across their global operations and supply chains.

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