This section outlines due diligence steps that companies can take to prevent abuse of migrant workers in their operations and supply chains. The described due diligence steps are aligned with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). Further information on UNGPs is provided in the ‘Key Human Rights Due Diligence Frameworks’ section below or in the Introduction.
While the below steps provide guidance on migrant workers in particular, it is generally more resource-efficient for companies to ‘streamline’ their human rights due diligence processes by also identifying and addressing other relevant human rights issues (e.g. child labour, forced labour, discrimination, freedom of association) at the same time.
Key Human Rights Due Diligence Frameworks
Several human rights frameworks describe the due diligence steps that businesses should ideally implement to address human rights issues, including abuse of migrant worker rights. The primary framework is the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). Launched in 2011, the UNGPs offer guidance on how to implement the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework, which establishes the respective responsibilities of Governments and businesses — and where they intersect.
The UNGPs set out how companies, in meeting their responsibility to respect human rights, should put in place due diligence and other related policies and processes, which include:
- A publicly available policy setting out the company’s commitment to respect human rights
- Assessment of any actual or potential adverse human rights impacts with which the company may be involved across its entire value chain
- Integration of the findings from their impact assessments into relevant internal functions/processes — and the taking of effective action to manage the same
- Tracking of the effectiveness of the company’s management actions
- Reporting on how the company is addressing its actual or potential adverse impacts
- Remediation of adverse impacts that the company has caused or contributed to
Additionally, the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises define the elements of responsible business conduct, including human and labour rights.
Another important reference document is the ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy (MNE Declaration), which contains the most detailed guidance on due diligence as it pertains to labour rights. These instruments, articulating principles of responsible business conduct, draw on international standards enjoying widespread consensus.
Companies can seek specific guidance on this and other issues relating to international labour standards from the ILO Helpdesk for Business. The ILO Helpdesk assists company managers and workers who want to align their policies and practices with principles of international labour standards and build good industrial relations.
Additionally, the SME Compass offers guidance on the overall human rights due diligence process by taking businesses through five key due diligence phases. The SME Compass has been developed in particular to address the needs of SMEs but is freely available and can be used by other companies as well. The tool, available in English and German, is a joint project by the German Government’s Helpdesk on Business & Human Rights and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.
Develop a Policy Commitment on Migrant Labour
As per the UNGPs, a human rights policy should be:
- “Approved at the most senior level” of the company
- “Informed by relevant internal and/or external expertise”
- Specific about company’s “human rights expectations of personnel, business partners and other parties directly linked to its operations, products or services”
- “Publicly available and communicated internally and externally to all personnel, business partners and other relevant parties”
- “Reflected in operational policies and procedures necessary to embed it throughout the business”
It is important for businesses to include migrant workers in their policies regarding human rights, regardless of the nature of work, location of supply chain or industry of operation, due to the international prevalence of migrant workers. The Dhaka Principles are a helpful tool that can be used by businesses to support migrant workers in all stages of due diligence. Along these lines, a company may consider adopting codes of conduct to ensure that they demand equal employment and non-exploitation practices with regard to migrant workers. Policies could include commitments such as:
- Comply with national law relating to migrant workers at a minimum and aspire to adherence with international standards and best practice
- Refrain from engaging in or supporting unequal treatment or exploitation of migrant workers in hiring, termination, remuneration, training, promotion or retirement
- Avoid restrictions on migrant workers including the withholding of passports and other travel documents
- Enshrine clear guidelines with regard to recruitment practices (including those of suppliers and business partners where possible) that contain specific recommendations on recruitment fees and contracts
Some companies publish stand-alone migrant workers policies, given migrant workers’ vulnerability to labour rights abuses in their industries — for example, UK fashion house Burberry, Swedish retailer H&M and tech company Hewlett-Packard. However, it is more common for businesses to integrate migrant labour into their human rights, responsible sourcing or diversity policies, with Unilever offering an example. Where companies do not have a stand-alone human rights policy, migrant labour is often addressed in other documentation, such as a business code of conduct or ethics and/or a supplier code of conduct.
Businesses may also consider aligning their policies with relevant industry-wide or cross-industry policy commitments, for example:
- United Nations Global Compact-OHCHR, A Guide for Business: How to Develop a Human Rights Policy: This guidance provides recommendations on how to develop a human rights policy and includes extracts from companies’ policies referencing migrant workers.
- Institute for Human Rights and Business, Migration with Dignity: A Guide to Implementing the Dhaka Principles: A practical guide to implementing the Dhaka Principles of fair and equal labour for migrant workers and writing policies. The Dhaka Principles provide a roadmap that traces the migrant worker from recruitment, through employment, to the end of contract and provides key principles that employers and migrant recruiters should respect at each stage in the process to ensure migration with dignity.
- BSR, Migrant Worker Management Toolkit: A Global Framework: A toolkit for respecting the rights of migrant workers throughout businesses and global supply chains, which includes guidance on a recruitment policy for migrant workers.
- Verité, Fair Hiring Toolkit: This toolkit offers tools, guidance and approaches to support the responsible recruitment and hiring of migrant workers in global supply chains, including guidance on improving codes of conduct and company policies.
- Interfaith Centre on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), Best Practice Guidance on Ethical Recruitment of Migrant Workers: A report on migrant worker recruitment and examples of best practice (including policies).
- SME Compass: Provides advice on how to develop a human rights strategy and formulate a policy statement.
Assess Actual and Potential Migrant Labour Impacts
The UNGPs note that impact assessments:
- Will vary in complexity depending on “the size of the business enterprise, the risk of severe human rights impacts, and the nature and context of its operations”
- Should cover impacts that the company may “cause or contribute to through its own activities, or which may be directly linked to its operations, products or services by its business relationships”
- Should involve “meaningful consultation with potentially affected groups and other relevant stakeholders” in addition to other sources of information such as audits
- Should be ongoing
Impact assessments should look at both actual and potential impacts, i.e. impacts that have already manifested or could manifest. This compares to risk assessment that would only look at potential impacts and may not satisfy all of the above criteria.
Upon identification of operations or segments of supply chains that rely heavily on migrant labour, companies should consider assessing actual and potential migrant labour impacts. Impact assessments should consider the following:
- Migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to abuse as their right to live or work in a country may be tied to a job with their employer (for instance a sponsorship system) or they may be working illegally and not want to risk losing their job and being exposed to authorities.
- Assessments should consider conducting off-site interviews as workers may not be comfortable talking about harmful work experiences on-site.
- There is also an increasing trend of assessing risks of labour rights violations through ‘worker voice’ tools, such as technology-enabled worker surveys. These can be easily adapted to different languages to accommodate migrant workers’ needs.
Migrant labour impact assessments are usually undertaken as part of broader human rights risk assessments. The requirement to engage with potentially affected stakeholders is key. Nike offers an example of a company conducting a risk assessment focused specifically on recruitment practices of migrant workers through Verité’s CUMULUS Forced Labor ScreenTM tool.
- BSR, Migrant Worker Management Toolkit: A Global Framework: A toolkit for respecting the rights of migrant workers with a section on how to better understand a country’s context to evaluate the risks of migrant worker issues.
- Verité, Fair Hiring Toolkit: This toolkit offers tools, guidance and approaches to support the responsible recruitment and hiring of migrant workers in global supply chains, including guidance on identifying company risk and vulnerability to the human trafficking and forced labour of migrant workers.
- Ethical Trading Initiative, Managing Risks Associated with Modern Slavery: A Good Practice Note for the Private Sector: This resource provides detailed guidance on how companies can assess the risk of modern slavery in global supply chains with a special focus on migrant workers.
- CSR Risk Check: A tool allowing companies to check which international CSR risks (including related to migrant worker rights) businesses are exposed to and what can be done to manage them. The tool provides tailor-made information on the local human rights situation as well as environmental, social and governance issues. It allows users to filter by product/raw material and country of origin. The tool was developed by MVO Netherland; the German version is funded and implemented by the German Government’s Helpdesk on Business & Human Rights and UPJ.
- SME Compass: The Risk Assessment Tool provides practical guidance when rating and prioritizing risks after they have been identified.
Integrate and Take Action to Address Migrant Labour Impacts
As per the UNGPs, effective integration requires that:
- “Responsibility for addressing [human rights] impacts is assigned to the appropriate level and function within the business enterprise” (e.g. senior leadership, executive and board level)
- “Internal decision-making, budget allocations and oversight processes enable effective responses to such impacts”
The actions and systems that a company will need to apply will vary depending on the outcomes of its impact assessment. For example, companies could consider conducting training on migrant workers’ rights for employees most likely to encounter migrant workers, such as procurement, human resources and supply chain personnel. Training sessions on migrant labour can also be offered to suppliers. Training might include reference to the relevant international standards and could be updated in-line with new innovations and adjustments to best practices.
Companies might also consider adapting existing worker training programmes to accommodate migrant workers more easily. This might include, for example, the offer of local language courses to improve communication and enhance productivity and worker safety. Additional training and orientation programmes could also be provided to migrant workers to ensure that they have access to equal opportunities in the workplace and to support their assimilation into the local community.
A company may opt to recruit migrant workers directly rather than through the use of brokers. Any brokers used should be reviewed carefully to ensure that they comply fully with all laws for protecting migrant workers by way of carrying out due diligence (see IOM resources on ethical recruitment). A company may also choose to publish and communicate guidance on its expectations regarding the recruitment and employment of migrant workers, including by business partners and suppliers. In situations where the risk of exploitation may be higher in supply chains, a company may wish to incentivize suppliers to improve their recruitment practices. This can be done, for example, by providing preferential terms to suppliers who recruit directly.
Multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) can provide the necessary expertise, guidance and economies of scale to address migrant labour problems in a responsible, sector-specific way. Such MSIs can also help companies learn from different stakeholder groups including business, Government, civil society and intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations. An example is the partnership between the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and H&M in 2019, which promotes cooperation in relation to the ethical recruitment of migrant workers in global textile supply chains. Other MSIs include those by the Fair Labor Association and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm oil, both of which run campaigns on migrant labour.
- ILO, The Migrant Pay Gap: Understanding Wage Differences between Migrants and Nationals: This report gives information on pay gaps between migrants and nationals and tips on how to address this.
- ILO, Global Guidelines on the Prevention of Forced Labour Through Lifelong Learning and Skills Development Approaches: This guidance on developing forced labour training modules (with a focus on migrant labour) for employees and suppliers, including awareness-raising strategies to identify forced labour risks.
- IOM, IRIS: Ethical Recruitment, Tools and Resources: IRIS is the flagship initiative of the IOM that seeks to promote ethical recruitment of migrant workers. Reports, e-courses and other toolkits on ethical recruitment can be found in the ‘Resources’ section of their website.
- Ethical Trading Initiative: A range of resources for employers on how to protect migrant workers in their businesses and supply chains, including in the aftermath of COVID-19.
- BSR, Migrant Worker Management Toolkit: A Global Framework: A toolkit for respecting the rights of migrant workers, including a section on capacity-building to improve company-wide knowledge on migrant workers’ rights, as well as a section on supporting migrant workers post-arrival through training, cultural and language support and health awareness education.
- ILO, Fair Recruitment Toolkit: A modular training manual on fair recruitment to support in the design and implementation of fair recruitment practices.
- Verité, Fair Hiring Toolkit: This toolkit offers tools, guidance and approaches to support the responsible recruitment and hiring of migrant workers in global supply chains, including guidance on raising awareness/building capacity, screening/evaluating labour recruiters and multi-stakeholder engagement.
- Interfaith Centre on Corporate Responsibility, Best Practice Guidance on Ethical Recruitment of Migrant Workers: A report on migrant worker recruitment and examples of best practice (including supplier relationship/management and industry leadership/collaboration).
- Ergon Associates and Ethical Trading Initiative, Managing Risks Associated with Modern Slavery — A Good Practice Note for the Private Sector: This resource, produced with the assistance of IFC, CDC Group, EBRD and DFID, provides detailed guidance on how companies can take action to address modern slavery risks in global supply chains with a special focus on migrant workers.
- SME Compass: Provides advice on how to take action on human rights by embedding them in your company, creating and implementing an action plan, and conducting a supplier review and capacity building.
Track Performance on Migrant Labour
As per the UNGPs, tracking should:
- “Be based on appropriate qualitative and quantitative indicators”
- “Draw on feedback from both internal and external sources, including affected stakeholders” (e.g. through grievance mechanisms)
Businesses should regularly review their approach to migrant worker rights to see if it continues to be effective and is having the desired impact. Audits and social monitoring are common ways to check performance in the first tier of the supply chain. Such monitoring or audits can be undertaken internally by the company or by a third party contracted by the company. Operations and supply chains can be audited to understand the way migrant workers are treated and the rights they are afforded — such as their wages, working hours and living conditions — as well as whether they have access to their own documentation (such as passports) and whether they have been charged any recruitment fees. Common supplier audit frameworks that span most industries and include migrant labour indicators include SMETA audits and SA8000 accredited audits. The amfori BSCI Code of Conduct also provides guidance on how to mitigate negative social impacts on migrant workers.
A common approach or first step taken by companies is to issue self-assessment questionnaires (SAQs) to suppliers, requesting information and evidence on their migrant labour procedures, such as whether suppliers have implemented monitoring measures to identify the groups most vulnerable to forced labour, whether recruitment agencies are used in the recruitment process, which agencies are used and how they ensure the respect of migrant workers’ rights. Repeated SAQs can give insight into improvements in supplier management systems and let suppliers self-report on actual or potential migrant worker rights issues. Where SAQ results warrant it, companies can carry out on-the-ground (or in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic) remote suppliers audits.
Examples of questions to include in social audits or SAQs are as follows:
- Do migrant workers have the freedom to terminate employment (by means of notice of reasonable length) at any time without a penalty?
- Have migrant workers paid a recruitment fee, or do they owe money from their wages to a recruiter
- Have important documents, such as a visa, right to work, or passports, been withheld from migrant workers by the employer?
If shortcomings are identified, corrective action plans (CAPs) should be developed jointly with the supplier, setting out clear targets and milestones for improvement. Progress should then be tracked regularly to ensure CAP completion. Setting SMART targets helps track performance. SMART targets are those that are: specific, measurable, attainable, resourced and time-bound. Examples of indicators to be recorded and monitored include:
- Grievances from migrant workers recorded (number and nature)
- Audit findings on violations of migrant workers’ rights
- Progress on corrective action plans
- Media reports on instances of abuse of migrant workers
- Official inspection outcomes
Due diligence processes should be regularly checked and continuously improved to ensure that the information collected for these targets is as accurate as possible. This includes checking the effectiveness of grievance mechanisms (i.e. their accessibility to migrant workers), the quality of audits, etc. Responsibility for data collection should be clearly allocated to relevant roles within the company and reported with a set frequency (for instance once a month).
Although both SAQs and audits are commonly used by companies in various industries, both tools have limitations in their ability to uncover hidden violations, including violations of migrant worker rights. Unannounced audits somewhat mitigate this problem but even these are not always effective at identifying violations given that an auditor tends to spend only limited time on-site. Furthermore, human rights violations, including migrant workers’ rights, often happen further down supply chains, whereas audits often only cover ‘Tier 1’ suppliers.
New tools such as technology-enabled worker surveys/‘worker voice’ tools allow real-time monitoring and partly remedy the problems of traditional audits. An increasing number of companies complement traditional audits with ‘worker voice’ surveys (e.g. Unilever and VF Corporation), which can be easily adapted to different languages to accommodate migrant workers’ needs.
Some companies go further and adopt ‘beyond audit’ approaches, which are built on proactive collaboration with suppliers rather than on supplier monitoring (‘carrots’ rather than ‘sticks’). Collaborating with other stakeholders, including workers’ organizations, law enforcement authorities, labour inspectorates and non-governmental organizations to proactively identify, remediate and prevent abuse of migrant worker rights can also prove to be effective.
- ILO, Fair Recruitment Toolkit: A modular training manual on fair recruitment to support in the design and implementation of fair recruitment practices.
- ILO, Combating Forced Labour: A Handbook for Employers and Business: This guidance has suggestions of how companies can track performance on forced labour in their operations and supply chains (with a focus on migrant labour).
- Verité, Fair Hiring Toolkit: This toolkit offers tools, guidance and approaches to support the responsible recruitment and hiring of migrant workers in global supply chains, including a guide on social audits (e.g. conducting interviews with migrant workers, labour recruiters and managers) and taking corrective actions/developing improvement plans.
- Interfaith Centre on Corporate Responsibility, Best Practice Guidance on Ethical Recruitment of Migrant Workers: A report on migrant worker recruitment and examples of best practice (including audits).
- Ergon Associates and Ethical Trading Initiative, Managing Risks Associated with Modern Slavery — A Good Practice Note for the Private Sector: This resource, produced with the assistance of IFC, CDC Group, EBRD and DFID, provides the private sector with guidance on how to monitor progress on forced labour (with a focus on migrant workers), including KPIs.
- SME Compass: Provides advice on how to measure human rights performance.
Communicate Performance on Migrant Labour
As per the UNGPs, regular communications of performance should:
- “Be of a form and frequency that reflect an enterprise’s human rights impacts and that are accessible to its intended audiences”
- “Provide information that is sufficient to evaluate the adequacy of an enterprise’s response to the particular human rights impact involved”
- “Not pose risks to affected stakeholders, personnel or to legitimate requirements of commercial confidentiality”
Companies are expected to communicate their performance on respecting migrant workers’ rights in a formal public report, which can take the form of a standalone report such as Nestlé’s Responsible Sourcing of Seafood reports. More commonly, however, an update on progress is included in a broader sustainability or human rights report such as Unilever’s Human Rights reports, or in an annual Communication on Progress (CoP) in implementing the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact. Additionally, other forms of communication may include in-person meetings, online dialogues and consultation with affected stakeholders.
- ILO, Combating Forced Labour: A Handbook for Employers and Business: This guidance has recommendations on how to report forced labour approaches and results (with a focus on migrant labour).
- UNGP Reporting Framework: A short series of smart questions (‘Reporting Framework’), implementation guidance for companies that are reporting, and assurance guidance for internal auditors and external assurance providers.
- United Nations Global Compact, Communication on Progress (CoP): The CoP ensures further strengthening of corporate transparency and accountability, allowing companies to better track progress, inspire leadership, foster goal-setting and provide learning opportunities across the Ten Principles and SDGs.
- Verité, Fair Hiring Toolkit: This toolkit offers tools, guidance and approaches to support the responsible recruitment and hiring of migrant workers in global supply chains, including a guide on reporting.
- Social Accountability International, Measure & Improve Your Labour Standards Performance: This resource includes tools to help companies implement or improve performance on labour standards, including supporting migrant labour in global supply chains.
- The Sustainability Code: A framework for reporting on non-financial performance that includes 20 criteria, including on human rights and employee rights
- SME Compass: The Practical Guide on Target Group-Oriented Communication helps to identify stakeholders and find suitable communication formats and channels.
Remedy and Grievance Mechanisms
As per the UNGPs, remedy and grievance mechanisms should include the following considerations:
- “Where business enterprises identify that they have caused or contributed to adverse impacts, they should provide for or cooperate in their remediation through legitimate processes”.
- “Operational-level grievance mechanisms for those potentially impacted by the business enterprise’s activities can be one effective means of enabling remediation when they meet certain core criteria.”
To ensure their effectiveness, grievance mechanisms should be:
- Legitimate: “enabling trust from the stakeholder groups for whose use they are intended, and being accountable for the fair conduct of grievance processes”
- Accessible: “being known to all stakeholder groups for whose use they are intended, and providing adequate assistance for those who may face particular barriers to access”
- Predictable: “providing a clear and known procedure with an indicative time frame for each stage, and clarity on the types of process and outcome available and means of monitoring implementation”
- Equitable: “seeking to ensure that aggrieved parties have reasonable access to sources of information, advice and expertise necessary to engage in a grievance process on fair, informed and respectful terms”
- Transparent: “keeping parties to a grievance informed about its progress, and providing sufficient information about the mechanism’s performance to build confidence in its effectiveness and meet any public interest at stake”
- Rights-compatible: “ensuring that outcomes and remedies accord with internationally recognized human rights”
- A source of continuous learning: “drawing on relevant measures to identify lessons for improving the mechanism and preventing future grievances and harms”
- Based on engagement and dialogue: “consulting the stakeholder groups for whose use they are intended on their design and performance, and focusing on dialogue as the means to address and resolve grievances”
Grievance mechanisms can play an important role in helping address migrant labour issues in operations and supply chains (e.g. Hewlett-Packard). In addition to conventional channels such as those using a hotline, an emerging ‘worker voice’ technology allows workers to submit grievances in real-time through text messages and without fear of reprisal.
Remediation of migrant worker rights issues can be complex, as they may have implications on a worker’s right to reside in a particular country, so it is recommended that legal advice is sought. Ensuring that remediation approaches consider the safety and wellbeing of migrant workers is crucial, particularly if they appear to have been trafficked or are under the control of a gangmaster or another illegal group.
Companies could use the results of impact assessments to determine corrective actions, with the most severe prioritized. Some companies may decide that — as a last resort — a failure to remediate or correct the situation should result in termination of the relationship with the offending supplier. Examples of companies with migrant labour remediation programmes include Nike.
- ILO, Combating Forced Labour: A Handbook for Employers and Business: This guidance has helpful recommendations on remediation actions and grievance mechanisms for businesses (with a focus on migrant labour).
- BSR, Migrant Worker Management Toolkit: A Global Framework: A toolkit for respecting the rights of migrant workers throughout businesses and global supply chains, which includes a section on the grievance process.
- Verité, Fair Hiring Toolkit: This toolkit offers tools, guidance and approaches to support the responsible recruitment and hiring of migrant workers in global supply chains, including a guide on establishing effective grievance mechanisms and protection for whistle-blowers.
- Ethical Trading Initiative, Access to Remedy: Practical Guidance for Companies: This guidance explains key components of the mechanisms that allow workers to submit complaints and enable businesses to provide remedy.
- Ergon Associates and Ethical Trading Initiative, Managing Risks Associated with Modern Slavery — A Good Practice Note for the Private Sector: This resource, produced with the assistance of IFC, CDC Group, EBRD and DFID, provides detailed guidance on how companies can develop grievance mechanisms and remediate modern slavery risks in global supply chains with a special focus on migrant workers.
- SME Compass: The Practical Guide on Grievance Management outlines how to design grievance mechanisms following the UNGP effectiveness criteria and includes examples from companies.
- Global Compact Network Germany, Worth Listening: Understanding and Implementing Human Rights Grievance Management: A business guide intended to assist companies in designing effective human rights grievance mechanisms, including practical advice and case studies. Also available in German.