RRT BLOG: Business leaders convene for the inaugural Responsible Recruitment UK Forum

On 21st November 2019, some 100 organisations from business, government and the third sector, came together to examine the barriers to Responsible Recruitment and discuss what can be done to overcome them.

 ‘It’s really important that we have days like today with all these programmes coming together to collaborate and learn from each other.’

Chloe Cranston, Anti-Slavery International

The inaugural Responsible Recruitment UK Forum was co-hosted by the Responsible Recruitment Toolkit (RRT) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and this collaboration set the tone for the event where the key takeaway was that organisations must work together to ensure Responsible Recruitment in supply chains.

 

Opening the event, Tauhid Pasha, representing the Chief of Mission for IOM UK, set the scene and reminded us that the objective of Responsible Recruitment is to ensure recruitment is fair for all – workers, recruiters and employers.

In a searing keynote speech, Phil Bloomer, Executive Director of the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, set out why Responsible Recruitment is the next frontier in business and human rights. He argued that brand’s irresponsible purchasing practices have resulted in unethical recruitment processes which traditional social audit systems had failed to pick up. Phil believes that brands often dictate the conditions within their supply chains by determining the scale of abuse they will tolerate – often defined by legal counsel looking at the risk to the brand rather than the worker. 

“Many social audits are little more than fig leaves supplying brands with plausible deniability.”

Phil Bloomer

He discussed how recruitment fees are a key factor in driving worker exploitation and highlighted the severity of the issue – the average fee paid by Bangladeshi workers migrating to Qatar was $2,300 – seven months’ wages!  

In the panel discussion – ‘What are the barriers to responsible recruitment, and how can they be overcome?’ – Lisa Domoney, Director of Responsible Sourcing EMEA, for Wal-mart said; ‘Problems like forced labour are beyond the scope of any single organisation and went on to explain how Wal-mart are collaborating with a variety of other stakeholders.

Michael Rich, Chief Executive of the Gangmaster and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), talked about the length and complexity of modern supply chains and explained the work the GLAA has undertaken with the construction sector where over 100 major construction businesses have signed a protocol committing signatories to a number of principles designed to help prevent and protect workers from exploitation or abuse. 

 Neill Wilkins, Head of the Migrant Workers Programme at the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB), commented “the Construction Protocol is a really significant and important step forward…..we would like to see similar protocols across a range of other industries – if only the GLAA had the capacity to do that”.  

They may not be your employees, but they form part of your workforce.

Neill Wilkins

Neil went on to talk about the costs of recruitment being passed onto workers and how such costs should always be borne by the employer since they are integral business costs in the same way as health and safety.

Pawel Szalus, IRIS Programme Manager at IOM, emphasised that organisations should ensure that worker voice is represented from the outset when crafting any new responsible recruitment initiatives.  Apart from the value workers bring in understanding how things actually work, they can communicate the things that are actually important to them – information that is of prime importance to the success of such initiatives.

Finally Joanne Young, Head of Development at the Association of Labour Providers (ALP), talked about constricting labour availability saying; ‘Labour providers will have to up their game if they want to thrive in this new market and responsible recruitment has many of the answers for how to do that.’

The panel was chaired by Chloe Cranston from Anti-Slavery International who expertly navigated the panellists’ different perspectives and ensured there were balanced contributions.

In the second part of the day, discussions turned to the solutions – practical examples of embedding Responsible Recruitment

We are not going to make progress on any of these issues unless we work together and trust each other.

Louise Herring

Quintin Lake, Managing Director of 50 Eight, highlighted that it’s important that workers fully understand not only the job they are being offered, but also the environment they will be working and living in. He presented ‘Just Good Work’ an app freely available to workers which provides them with information and advice on their rights and responsibilities during the recruitment process and whilst at work.   He explained that the tool came about through the experiences of a migrant worker and it can enable organisations to demonstrate Responsible Recruitment through anonymised user feedback throughout their recruitment journey.

 We heard from Louise Herring from the Herring Consultancy, and Rick Fletcher from Greencore about the work of the Food Network for Ethical Trade (FNET) and how a number of UK food companies and retailers have come together to improve human rights in supply chains.

Can we get back to every recruiter being an expert on ‘people’ and treating workers as their customers?

Hannah Newcomb

We also learned how IRIS and Clearview – two certification schemes for ethical recruitment and employment – are working together.  Both certification schemes have capacity building tools available to support the journey to Responsible Recruitment, and Hannah Newcomb, Managing Director of RRT, explained how responsible labour providers are often undercut by unscrupulous and exploitative recruiters and how external certification can help to demonstrate good practice. 

 David Camp, Chief Executive of the Association of Labour Providers, brought an inspirational event to a close by thanking all participants and reminding us there are now the tools available to help businesses to become responsible recruiters – the essential standards to ensure responsible recruitment and labour supply developed over years by IOM IRIS and Clearview; the step by step guide to eliminating worker paid recruitment fees; the model responsible recruitment policies; the supply chain capacity building and monitoring functionality within the Responsible Recruitment Toolkit to support recruiters and their clients; and the tools such as Just Good Work to deliver information, transparency and remedy to workers.

I believe that we are on an inevitable and irreversible journey towards ending slavery in our supply chains.  The question is, how long will we take to achieve this?

David Camp

David made a final call for action from all those present:

“The opportunity is here for businesses to grasp this agenda, to be a pioneer, to demonstrate leading practices, to make your business a responsible recruitment champion and to make a real difference to the lives of millions of workers in your supply chains.  

The tools are there and we can, through a collective and collaborative drive, make this change happen. You personally can make this change happen.”