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UN Migration Agency, RBA Team Up to Target Forced Labor, Exploitation

Image credit: Simon Buxton/Anti-Slavery International/Human Rights Watch

The issue of worker exploitation and forced labor continues to gain global attention, as more and more companies rise to the challenge to align their operations with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The latest sign of progress comes in the form of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between IOM, the UN Migration Agency and the Responsible Business Alliance (RBA) - formerly the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition - to boost cooperation, promote ethical recruitment and protect the rights of migrant workers.

According to the latest global estimates on modern slavery, approximately 25 million people worldwide are working in situations of forced labor. Unethical recruitment is a root cause of forced labor, as many migrant workers are subject to high recruitment fees, personal debt, complicated recruitment practices, a lack of transparency about their eventual working conditions and inadequate legal protections in the countries in which they work.

The MoU provides a formal framework for IOM and RBA to pursue shared goals and objectives through the exchange of information, subject matter expertise and connecting global networks. It includes coordinating the objectives and technical aspects of the RBA’s Responsible Labor Initiative (RLI) and the International Recruitment and Integrity System (IRIS), which is being developed by IOM and a consortium of partners, as well as IOM and RBA training and other capacity-building initiatives and special projects.

“The exploitation of migrant workers often begins at the recruitment stage when workers are charged predatory recruitment fees or provided with misleading information about the job on offer,” said Marina Manke, Head of the Labor Mobility and Human Development Division at IOM. “It is imperative that governments, civil society and the private sector work together to stop this exploitation and to change the current international recruitment model. We are therefore pleased to be working with the RBA on this important issue,” added Manke.

IOM’s IRIS is a voluntary multi-stakeholder certification system for international recruitment intermediaries. It is comprised of an international standard, certification scheme and a compliance and monitoring mechanism. RBA’s RLI is a multi-industry, multi-stakeholder initiative that brings together members, suppliers, recruitment partners and stakeholders to use their collective influence and application of due diligence to drive the transformation of recruitment markets and reduce the risk of forced labor in supply chains.

“The IOM and RBA complement each other’s strengths and capabilities related to ethical recruitment and together we can be more effective at promoting the rights of workers vulnerable to forced labor in global supply chains,” said Rob Lederer, Executive Director of the Responsible Business Alliance. “The combination of IOM’s IRIS and RLI’s Labor Agency Maturity Model with stepped levels of compliance toward certification is a robust tool in the fight against forced labor.”

Over the summer, five high-profile companies: Ford, General Motors, Michael Kors, Marriott Hotels and Hormel Foods pledged to adopt ethical labor recruitment policies throughout their global supply chains. At the same time, global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft released its second annual Modern Slavery Index, which revealed that modern slavery is on the rise as a result of the escalating refugee crisis in Europe. US software company SAP Ariba unveiled a new risk management tool in late August that could, however, change this, helping corporates make supply chain decisions or develop strategies to minimize the risk of labor violations in their supply chains. Similar resources have also been developed by The Consumer Goods Forum and Good World Solutions to help spread best practices and mitigate human rights violations in supply chains.


Launched in 2006, Sustainable Brands has become a global learning, collaboration, and commerce community of forward-thinking business and brand strategy, marketing, innovation and sustainability professionals who are leading the way to a better future. We recognize that brands today have… [Read more about Sustainable Brands]


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