Our research shows increased vulnerability to forced labor conditions among migrant workers, and increasing pressure on children to participate in the commercial sex industry.

The Impact of COVID-19 on trafficking in Kenya and Uganda

Responding to COVID-19 in Uganda and Kenya: In the spring of 2021, GFEMS commissioned a series of interrelated studies to assess the short, medium, and long-term impacts of COVID-19 on vulnerable populations in key sectors in Kenya and Uganda and identify ways in which GFEMS-funded programming can be adapted to better support them. The studies revealed increased vulnerability to forced labor conditions among migrant workers as well as limited access to economic alternatives for returnee migrants, prompting remigration. The studies also revealed increasing pressure on vulnerable children to engage in the commercial sex industry, primarily driven by economic necessity and school closures. Children already engaged in the industry experienced an increase in economic insecurity and violent abuse as well as reduced access to support services.  

Partners: ICF, Makerere University, NORC at the University of Chicago, Kantar Public

Kenya

Situational Analysis: Impact of COVID-19 on Overseas Labor Recruitment
Situational Analysis: Impact of COVID-19 on Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children

Uganda

Situational Analysis: Impact of COVID-19 on Overseas Labor Recruitment

SafeStep empowers migrant workers with knowledge and resources to make informed decisions and ultimately to take greater control over their migration journeys.

Democratizing Migration: How a Mobile App is Empowering Migrant Workers and Disrupting Migration Systems

For migrant workers across the globe, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and nation-wide lockdowns have taken a heavy toll. Confronting job losses, reduced work hours and salaries, and a rise in deportations, migrant workers are also coping with the mental effects of a pandemic that has left them isolated in a foreign place and uncertain of their future and that of their families. Coming out of the pandemic, people the world over are starting to ask how we can do things differently. How can we build back better to ensure safety and security for migrant workers? SafeStep is one answer. 

“This is the real milestone in the migration sector. It is a modern approach and landmark in the migration justice system. We have to work together to make it inclusive.”

— Barrister Shamim Haider Patwary, MP

SafeStep is a digital tool to promote safe migration. Collaboratively developed by our partners ELEVATE, Diginex Solutions, and Winrock International, SafeStep recently launched in Bangladesh in a virtual event attended by government officials, and representatives from key stakeholder groups including international development organisations and national NGOS, recruitment agencies, and migrant rights groups. Former Secretary General of the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA), Shamim Ahmed Chowdhury Noman, expressed the need for embassies and destination countries to adopt the app, citing “digitalisation in the entire migration sector” as the key to ending migrant exploitation. Barrister Shamim Haider Patwary, MP, called the app a “real milestone in the migration sector...a modern approach and landmark in the migration justice system.” 

Installed on any digital device, the SafeStep application allows migrants to input and upload relevant migration data and provides important information and guidance for safe migration. While simplifying a complex migration process, SafeStep empowers migrant workers with knowledge and resources to make informed decisions and ultimately to take greater control over their migration journeys.

Risky Migration: Bangladesh to the Gulf

Bangladesh has one of the largest emigrant populations in the world. Nearly 8 million of its 160 million residents live abroad; more than half – or approximately 4.2 million– of these emigrants work in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. These migrant workers contribute significantly to Bangladesh’s economy. In 2019, remittances totaled U.S. $18.3 billion or 6% of the country’s GDP, 73% of which came from the GCC countries. For many Bangladeshi families, remittances are the primary source of household income. 

Most Bangladeshi migrant workers are unskilled and from impoverished regions. They leave their homes to earn more money abroad and secure a better future for themselves and the families they leave behind.  However, migration offers no financial guarantees. What is certain is that migration is a decision that carries heavy risk.

One of the greatest threats to safe migration in Bangladesh is the dalal- an unlicensed recruitment agent or broker who charges migrants exploitative and unlawful fees to facilitate overseas migration.  Without a better understanding of the migration process, migrants pay these recruiters to arrange job placements and contracts and manage the logistics of migrating abroad. Dalals may make grand promises but migrants often find that jobs do not match the recruiter’s description or, in some cases, that a job doesn’t exist at all. 

SafeStep is intended to reduce migrants’ reliance on dalals and empower migrants to make their own decisions. With a better understanding of the end-to-end migration process and tools to make this process easier, migrants are less vulnerable to exploitation and better prepared for work and life overseas.

SafeStep’s Features:

Users can first select their preferred language; the application is available in both English and Bengali with a third language option, Arabic, currently in development. Users then have access to five primary features:

  1. Profile: The profile feature allows migrants to input relevant information on previous work experience and professional skills. Developers seek to improve this feature by including data on which jobs and skills are in highest demand in destination countries and mean salaries for various positions. This add-on will guide migrants to make better-informed decisions. 
  2. Migration Checklist: While sixty percent of Bangladeshi migrant workers do not migrate with employment contracts in place, this feature enables users to track, collect, and manage important documents and files in a centralized location, or what the app refers to as a user’s digital library. In the absence of a more formal contract, migrants are encouraged to record and upload audio or visual files that capture what has been promised and what has already been paid. In building this digital evidence trail, users are also able to upload identity documents for safe-keeping and verification.
  3. Budget Calculator: This feature creates awareness of the true costs of migration to help migrants decide whether or not to go. Users are prompted to input financial data- i.e. loans and fees, salary expectations, planned remittances- to calculate whether migration makes financial sense. Data to support this calculation is crowd-sourced, meaning it is collected in real-time to provide migrants the most current and accurate information.
  4. E-Learning: Migrants can access a series of custom videos, available in both English and Bengali, to learn more about what to expect during the migration process and how to prepare for that journey. Recent uploads target migrant workers in the hospitality sector and the domestic service industry where women make up 80% of the workforce.
  5. Help: Safestep’s Help Center is powered by artificial intelligence. While a chatbot delivers real-time responses, its functionality improves with each question asked. The Help feature includes information on emergency services and directs users to a live operator in instances of urgent need. 

An Application for Migrants, By Migrants

To be useful, a digital tool must be accessible. To be useful to migrant workers in Bangladesh, SafeStep had to be written in Bengali. But other country-specific, user-specific factors had to be considered if migrants were really to benefit from the app.

Android has the largest mobile operating market share in Bangladesh. Thus, developers built the app on the Android operating system to optimize the user experience for Bangladeshi migrant workers- SafeStep’s intended user base. Less obvious considerations became apparent during the early scoping and development phases. On the ground in Bangladesh, for example, the SafeStep team learned that many migrant workers lacked reliable access to charging stations, or sometimes electricity, for their mobile devices.  At pre-departure or training sites in particular, it is common that a single outlet serves dozens of migrant workers. To address this challenge, developers configured SafeStep to operate fully in a night mode setting, helping users conserve battery life while still being able to access critical resources.

Even with significant progress made on SafeStep’s development, the ELEVATE team and its partner organizations continued to solicit input and recommendations from migrant workers to make it work better for them. It was from worker feedback and that of other stakeholders that the budget calculator – perhaps the most useful feature for migrant workers- came to be included in the application. If the goal of migration is to earn more money, then being able to calculate the “true” cost of migration empowers migrants to make more informed migration decisions. 

Technology’s Potential to Democratize Migration

Migrant workers are easily exploited because they often lack access to information. With a determination to migrate but without a true understanding of how to do it safely, migrants turn to dalals and other sources of misinformation to navigate them through the process. Though internet usage in Bangladesh is low (below 50%), mobile remains the primary means of internet access. Efforts to increase both internet usage and digital literacy have expanded in recent years. According to a 2020 GSMA study, smartphone penetration rates will reach 69% by 2025 (compared to a current rate of 41%.) As the country moves towards greater digital capability, digital tools such as SafeStep have the potential to democratize access to information, thereby wresting power from those who seek to exploit migrant workers and installing it with migrants themselves.  

Despite its democratizing potential, SafeStep has thus far attracted many more men than women. While this can be partially attributed to the fact that fewer women migrate to the GCC countries than men, it is also reflective of the broader digital gender divide. In Bangladesh, the gender gap in internet usage is 55.6%, meaning men are 55 times as likely to use the internet than women. Before the pandemic, women in low- and middle-income countries were already 8% less likely than men to own mobile phones- a statistic that has only widened as women and girls continue to be disproportionately affected by COVID disruptions to education and economy.  In Bangladesh, many women, especially women in rural areas, can access the internet only through shared connections, meaning they have less control over when they can connect and for how long. 

The SafeStep consortium is advocating for solutions that facilitate greater access of women and girls to mobile internet and disrupt gender stereotypes that keep Bangladeshi women out of public spaces such as digital centers. They continue to research how they might get the app to more female migrants and eventually achieve true gender representation in the SafeStep user-base. Technology, like that deployed in SafeStep, has the power to change broken migration systems but its ultimate success is tied to uprooting other systems of inequality.

At a recent launch event, a Winrock official reiterated that the current application is not the final version and that more features are being added. Additional functionalities and features will target recruiters and employers in GCC countries. The goal is to make migration safer for workers from beginning to end. While thousands of Bangladeshi migrant workers have already downloaded and are using the SafeStep app, other stakeholders are recognizing its potential to change harmful migration trends. Implementers of the “Strengthened and Informative Migration Systems (SIMS)” project, an initiative funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) supporting Bangladeshi migrant workers to make informed migration decisions, is incorporating SafeStep’s budget calculator in its trainings. Winrock expects that this initiative will reach 100,000 potential migrants. Empowering migrant workers with information and sharing what works with others in the field is how we create safer migration pathways. It is how we protect migrant workers and reduce vulnerabilities to exploitation. It is how we change systems that perpetuate modern slavery.

Ethical recruitment practices are better for everyone, including recruiters themselves

Update: TERA is creating demand for ethical recruitment in India

GFEMS provides seed funding for ethical businesses to grow their market share, shifting demand away from exploitative recruitment to more ethical practices. Working with Seefar, we have created TERA (The Ethical Recruitment Agency), India’s first ethical recruitment agency.

TERA aims to reduce forced labor by pioneering research, making a business case on profitability of ethical recruitment, and piloting an ethical recruitment agency. Based in in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India, the pilot agency offers exploitation-free work opportunities to vulnerable communities. To date, Seefar has signed contracts with several large employers, published a guide for profitable ethical recruitment, and stress tested pre-departure trainings and worker welfare protocols.

Seefar is identifying large gaps in existing research including lack of:

  • A consensus on the definition and theory of ethical recruitment
  • Quantifiable impact
  • Understanding around unintended consequence.

Seefar’s research focuses on the effectiveness of ethical recruitment in reducing forced labor and the economic, social, physical, and mental effects of ethical recruitment on workers and their families. Preliminary findings from key informant interviews and case studies show overwhelming positive effects on workers and their families in the following dimensions: economic, social, physical and mental health, and human rights. Specifically, there is a direct relationship between lower recruitment fees, lower debt, and higher remittances to families and communities. Ethical recruitment can help migrant workers achieve upward social mobility in the long term and enhance their social status in their communities. Better customer service offered by ethical recruitment is a reliever of stress and concern at the individual and family levels. It also has important implications on mortality and morbidity of migrant workers abroad. Finally, ethical recruitment enhances knowledge of workers’ rights and safeguards those rights during, and often after, recruitment.

Seefar will continue The Ethical Recruitment Agency and accompanying research and offer evidence based and practical research to donors, governments, commercial actors and civil society members.

This project, and others in our portfolio like it, are working to show that ethical recruitment practices are better for everyone, including recruiters themselves. This shifts market demand for ethical recruitment agencies and ensures the long-term sustainability of ethical recruitment solutions.

The domestic service industry has the largest share of forced labor in the private economy. 80% of domestic workers are women.

A Better Way to Do Business: Investing in the Fair Model to End Forced Labor

Ethical business means better business. This is the message that our partner, Fair Employment Foundation (FEF), continues to share with businesses and recruiting agencies across the globe. 

Founded on the belief that “forced labor is a solvable world problem,” FEF works to fix broken recruitment systems and build market solutions to end the forced labor of migrant workers.  FEF is pushing back against agencies and training centers that focus more on the business of migration than the migrants themselves. With an eye on profits, recruiters are often incentivized to place those who are willing to pay rather than those who are best fitted for a job. They are also less invested in making sure migrants are prepared for work abroad –if a worker quits or gets fired, the agency can simply charge another worker the same fee. In other words, it is on the backs of migrant workers that recruitment agencies and training institutes succeed.

To begin to transform a recruitment system that harms both workers and employers, FEF established its own placement agency in Hong Kong in 2014. Two years later, the Fair Training Center opened its doors in Manila, Philippines.  In becoming both placement agency and trainer, FEF is transforming industry standards and driving change to end forced labor. 

Forced Labor in the Domestic Service Industry

While one in eight Hong Kong households currently employs a migrant domestic worker, this number is only expected to grow as the country learns to cope with a rapidly aging population. The Filipino government estimates that one in four of the 11.5 million migrant domestic workers in the world are Filipina women; Hong Kong alone is home to 200,000 Filipina domestic workers. Despite laws governing the sector, the domestic service industry has the largest share of forced labor in the private economy, accounting for nearly 25% of cases. Debt bondage – often the result of exploitative fees — is one of the most prevalent forms of forced labor.  Domestic workers are especially vulnerable to abuse as they are employed in private households, their labor unseen and therefore unregulated. 80% of domestic workers are women.

Given the high prevalence of Filipinas in the domestic service industry and the high rate of exploitation in this sector, we partnered with FEF to scale its ethical recruitment model. From our shared commitment to systems change, we are working to build sustainable and scalable solutions that address the problem at each stage of the recruitment process, from pre-departure to placement and beyond. 

Training for Work AND Life Overseas

The Filipino government currently mandates that migrant workers obtain a certificate affirming skill level from the country’s Technical Authority (Technical Education And Skills Development Authority or TESDA) before departing. Though training is not required, most migrants choose to participate to prepare both for the skills assessment and for life overseas. Training is rigorous, requiring participants in TESDA- accredited domestic service programs to complete at least 218 credit hours and master a set of “core competencies” that includes cleaning rooms, washing and ironing clothes, and preparing hot and cold meals. (In collaboration with ILO and Fair Training Center, TESDA recently launched a pilot hybrid-learning program that shortens the training period for the Domestic Work certificate to 12 days.)  However, despite intensive skills training, many migrant domestic workers struggle with the experience of living and working abroad. Between 30 and 40% of first-time Philippine domestic worker placements overseas are terminated or break their employment contract in just the first few months. Without a job, migrant workers become even more vulnerable, pressured to quickly find another job or leave the country. 

In addition, training costs money– a lot of money. Excessive fees force many migrants into debt before they are ever introduced to a recruitment agency. OneTESDA-accredited training school for domestic workers going abroad, charges $368 in tuition and another $10 for the test. The average monthly income in the Philippines is about $290. Though migrants pay these fees for the chance to work abroad and earn higher wages, debt is not something that is easily overcome, especially for migrant workers. Separated from home and community, migrants often struggle under the weight of perpetual debt, a struggle that puts them at greater risk of exploitation. 

As part of its mission to ensure safer migration for overseas domestic workers, FEF opened Fair Training Center in Manila in late 2016. Built from the same commitment to ethical recruitment, the Center provides a more comprehensive curriculum for overseas workers, one that takes into account employer expectations and local or country-specific conditions. While training helps overseas workers hone technical skills such as cooking and cleaning, it also supports development of soft skills such as communication and professionalism. Migrants are educated on their rights and receive training and advice, not only on how to cope with the challenges of living overseas, but on how to thrive as migrant workers in a foreign country. From the 30%-40% termination rate, Fair Training Center boasts dramatically reduced rates of early termination. Less than 10% of overseas domestic workers trained at the center are terminated or break their contracts in the first three months of employment. The UN’s International Labor Organization refers to FEF’s program as “the gold standard for pre-migration training.

Ethical Recruitment: An End-to-End Solution

While the Fair Training Center helps migrants avoid training fees and provides more comprehensive training, it is only one piece of FEF’s ethical recruitment model. Migrant workers confront the threat of exploitation at nearly every step in the migration process. It may begin at the point of training, but it lingers throughout the process of recruitment and placement as agencies in both the Philippines and Hong Kong exploit migrant workers by charging exorbitant fees. 

To address the issue at the site of origin, FEF partnered with Staffhouse, one of the largest recruitment agencies in the Philippines and one similarly committed to ethical recruitment and zero-fee charging. As Staffhouse has ranked as the Top Deploying Agency for skilled workers by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) for three consecutive years, FEF is confident this new partnership will be transformational for the entire industry in the Philippines. 

At the destination site, FEF already operates Fair Employment Agency (FEA), an ethical placement agency. With an emphasis on full transparency and matching the right employee with the right employer, FEA has built a reputation as one of the region’s most trustworthy recruiting sources. In 2020, FEA placed its 4000th domestic worker, helping these migrant workers collectively avoid an estimated US $7.5 million in recruitment debt. 

With GFEMS support, FEF was able to scale up its recruitment services. Additional investments in staff and resources needed to interview and place workers, process visas, engage with employers, and monitor placements enabled FEA to safely place hundreds more migrant workers. By 2021, FEA achieved its 5000th placement. Half of these placements have been Filipino domestic workers. None have been charged a fee.  

Every year, millions of workers leave their homes for better opportunities abroad. However, the circumstances that push migrant workers out are often the ones that make them most susceptible to exploitation and abuse: poverty, low wages, low-skill, and general lack of economic opportunity. Our investment in FEF and its ethical recruitment model has helped thousands of Filipino workers forge successful migration paths. It is a model that is replicable and scalable (see sidebar) and one that has the potential, not only to disrupt business-as-usual practices that harm migrant workers, but to really begin to change systems that enable modern slavery.

To learn more about FEF, please visit https://www.fairgroup.org/

Programs referenced in this article are funded by a grant from the United States Department of State. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author[s] and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.

Investing in Solutions that are Replicable and Scalable

In 2019, Malaysia’s first ethical recruitment agency opened its doors. With access to resources and networks developed under the GFEMS-FEF partnership and under the mentorship of FEF’s CEO, Zenna Law and Elaine  Sim founded Pinkcollar to help domestic workers migrate to Malaysia safely and debt-free.  With this support, Law says, “Pinkcollar launched its services with a tried-and-tested recruitment strategy that we felt confident with.”

Pinkcollar exemplifies perfectly what binds GFEMS and FEF together: a commitment to solutions that are replicable and scaleable, solutions that will ultimately uproot the systems that enable modern slavery.

 “We see supporting emerging ethical players in the recruitment industry as the next step to broadening our impact,” asserts FEF’s CEO.  With more agencies pursuing ethical recruitment models, new industries and markets will be reached much more efficiently, and we will “achieve our aim of ending forced labour of migrant workers.”

 

Women experience every stage of migration differently than men do, including returning back to the home country.

Shattered Dreams: Bangladeshi Migrant Workers during a Global Pandemic

The onset of the global pandemic exposed migrant workers to additional adverse situations, making them even more vulnerable and exposed to health risks.

Existing weak labor systems in GCC countries combined with poor living conditions, restricted access to health care, scarce legal protection and limited information have amplified the vulnerabilities of the migrant worker population.

In addition, forced repatriation of Bangladeshi migrant workers has led to a mass exodus of migrants back to their home country.

This policy brief presents findings from a rapid assessment conducted to assess the multi-faceted impacts of COVID-19 on the Bangladesh OLR industry and migrant workers’ conditions and vulnerabilities.

Key Findings

  1. There is limited reintegration support for returnee migrants
  2. There is increased risk of forced labor among returnee andpre-departure migrants
  3. There are a lack of interventions targeting skills-development, remigration, and pre-departure migrant protection
For more details and to see recommendations for action, download the full briefing:

Interested in even more information? Download the full report for more details on findings, implications, and methodology.

*This brief was prepared with support from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery (GFEMS). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of FCDO or GFEMS.

We need more ethical recruitment startups

We Need More Ethical Recruitment Startups

Ethical recruitment is a high priority for GFEMS, as it is for many other organizations fighting modern slavery. Ethical recruitment is a solution that offers great promise to ensure that labor migration leads to successful outcomes, and not to exploitation.

One in four victims of forced labor is an international migrant — nearly six million people. The vast, complex system of overseas labor recruitment is a key driver of outcomes for labor migrants. Transforming these systems requires a holistic approach, of which we believe ethical recruitment can be a cornerstone.

Within ethical recruitment, we take multiple approaches that we see as complementary. We engage at the policy level, as our partners International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Blas F. Ople Policy Center are doing in the Philippines and International Labor Organization (ILO) in Vietnam. We engage at the industry level, as IOM and Responsible Business Alliance (RBA) have done in multiple geographies with us. We even engage at the individual and community level, to change perceptions and behaviors related to ethical recruitment, which our partner ASK India is doing in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, for example. And we lead with evidence from start to finish, conducting prevalence estimation, worker voice studies, and synthesizing our learnings across academia, private industry, non-governmental organizations, and the public sector. 

One approach the field needs to see more of is ethical recruitment startups, be they startup agencies or other relevant businesses. Social enterprises like these have tremendous potential for impact. They may not offer the same breadth as industry-wide engagement, but they offer direct, deep impact as well as second- and third-order effects that can drive industry-wide change (e.g., driving up market prices for employers, which leads to lower worker turnover). But to realize their potential, we need more social entrepreneurs to pursue these models, and we need more funding that is the right fit for them.

An ethical recruitment startup can be many things. It can be a recruitment agency. Running a recruitment agency may sound unglamorous to some aspiring social entrepreneurs, but it offers direct, tangible impact and simpler models that may appeal to entrepreneurs whose strength is in management and execution. They also often have low startup costs and low barriers to self-sufficiency.

GFEMS has already had some success with the startup approach. Fair Employment Foundation (FEF) and Seefar’s TERA are great examples of ethical recruitment agency startups. They demonstrate that an ethical recruiter can be an excellent business. It is hard to even call FEF a startup anymore, now that they have one of the leading agencies in Hong Kong and have influenced the entire market. Other pioneers and precedents are cause for optimism, too. Staffhouse, an ethical recruiter since before it was a named phenomenon, is the largest agency in the Philippines. Pinkcollar, a startup in Malaysia, was profitable less than a year after launching.

Recruitment agencies are not the only path, though. Recruitment platforms, enterprise software, migrant worker engagement tools, and other non-tech service solutions all have the potential for profitable, impactful business models that give ethical recruitment a leg up on the unethical competition. These startups will appeal more to the entrepreneurs out there who are looking for novel models or who want to apply tech skills. For example, GFEMS partner Diginex Solutions (another example of an organization that has perhaps graduated beyond the startup nomer) is developing a range of digital tools that improve the cost-effectiveness of ethical recruitment, and similar thinking could inspire other products capable of supporting a social enterprise. Sama, a migrant recruitment platform, raised over a million dollars in 2020 and has the potential to reach a scale that dwarfs even the largest of agencies.

The concepts have been proven. The precedents to believe in these approaches exist. What we need now is more. We need more social entrepreneurs entering this space. We need ethical agencies in every country of origin and destination, forming a global network of end-to-end ethical recruitment. We need an ecosystem of non-agency players who are equipping the agencies, if not offering fundamentally different models.

Equally important, we need more funders fueling these social entrepreneurs. Prevailing modes of funding are not designed for these types of ventures.

Commercially driven investors, including impact investors, are looking for the hockey-stick growth trajectory and exit timelines that do not fit the financial life cycle of an ethical recruitment agency, despite otherwise attractive economics. That could change if any of the current pioneers have breakthroughs that ignite investor attention, but we cannot wait for breakthroughs. We have to make them happen.

More frustrating, ethical recruitment startups are too unconventional or too business-like for many grant-based funding mechanisms. They are generally set up to be run like businesses, not like typical NGOs. Grant-based funders need to overcome technical hangups, like trying to fit continuous business processes into project-based intervention frameworks, and recognize the potential for large-scale, sustainable, and deep impact at a low cost. Even foundations of modest means could kickstart an ethical recruitment agency that has immediate benefits for workers and long-term impact on a larger scale.

Worth noting is that FEF, with the support of some forward-looking supporters, has launched what could be an elegant impact-investing solution that combines equity and debt to better match the needs of investors and ethical recruitment agency startups. Put this initiative in the ‘one to watch’ category (or the ‘one to support now’ category if you are a funder).

The bottom line, though, is that the anti-modern slavery field should be motivating more social entrepreneurs to pursue ethical recruitment ventures and should be supporting them with appropriate financing to be successful. They won’t necessarily all be successful. And they won’t necessarily be enough to solve all the problems of labor migration. But they offer enormous potential impact that the field has under-explored for far too long.

GFEMS looks forward to providing updates on this project and sharing our learnings with the anti-trafficking community. For updates on this project and others like it, subscribe to our newsletter, or follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn

Our first look at intervention effectiveness for SafeStep, LaborLink, and predictive analytics

First Look: Intervention Effectiveness in Bangladesh

Under a partnership with the U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office, GFEMS funded three individual interventions, led by implementing partners ELEVATE, aimed at disrupting the prevalence of forced labor in India and Bangladesh. For each of the three interventions, GFEMS partnered with Athena-ITAD to conduct “First-Look” case studies. These case studies represent a snapshot of the current status of the project and assesses project progress in alignment with the Theory of Change. It also documents the progress made, if any, at the preliminary stages of the project.

Findings suggest that implementation is on track for the first phase of the project, despite delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Given that it is still early in the project implementation, the bulk of evidence will be assessed in the ‘Second Look’ case study which will offer a deeper, more comprehensive overview of the intervention and its impact.

Case Study 1: LaborLink

Country: Bangladesh

Sector: Apparel, Ready-made Garments

Project Description: GFEMS funded ELEVATE to increase transparency in the ready-made garment sector in Bangladesh by deploying its proven Laborlink worker survey tool to collect data on working conditions and forced labour risks faced by workers in informal factories. Building on the successful deployment of this tool in formal factories, ELEVATE has customized this anonymous and mobile-based worker survey tool for deployment in informal garments factories.

Deployment was focused in Keraniganj and Narayanganj, two apparel production hubs dense with informal factories, typically orienting production for the domestic apparel market. The Laborlink identifies child labor and workers at risk of forced labor, which ELEVATE referral operators (Amader Kotha Helpline) follow-up with. If this tool is found to be applicable, informal RMG workers in Bangladesh – currently hidden from view – will have an anonymous tool to give direct feedback on exploitive working conditions, and the project will connect them to pertinent information and resources required to remove them from situations of forced and child labour.

To see findings of our “First Look” Case Study, download the report:

Case Study 2: SafeStep

Country: Bangladesh

Sector: Ethical Recruitment

Project Description: GFEMS funded ELEVATE to design and develop a mobile application called SafeStep to ensure transparent and accountable overseas migration for Bangladeshi workers looking to migrate to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Middle East countries for work. The app is designed to provide pre-decision and pre-departure migration information for workers aspiring and/or planning to go abroad. The app currently offers five main features to its users:

  1. User profile
  2. E-Learning
  3. Migration Checklist and Document Library
  4. Budget Calculator
  5. Help Center

To see our early assessments for intervention effectiveness, download the report.

Case Study 3: Predictive Analytics

Country: India

Sector: Apparel, Ready-made Garments

Project Description:

Under this innovation-focused project, GFEMS funded the ELEVATE team to increase visibility into unauthorized subcontracting and the risk of forced labour practices in apparel supply chains in India. The project will develop a data-driven predictive tool to engage brands in detecting and mitigating forced labour and its risk in their supply chain(s). The completed tool will be used in conjunction with remediation plan to bolster brands’ efforts to reduce the risk of unauthorized contracting and forced labour violations. ELEVATE’s predictive analytics tool will increase brands’ visibility into unauthorized subcontracting and therefore, their vulnerability to forced labour in their supply chains. The predictive tool is built on ten years of social audit data from ELEVATE’s existing clients in India’s apparel sector.

To see findings of our “First Look” Case Study, download the report:

GFEMS and IOM Partner in Kenya to Foster Ethical Recruitment by Private Recruitment Agencies

GFEMS and IOM Partner in Kenya to Foster Ethical Recruitment by Private Recruitment Agencies

As a part of our partnership with the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, GFEMS is excited to share the launch of our new project with the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Coupled with other efforts in the portfolio, the Fund’s objective in this project is to create sustainable business models for the recruitment of migrant workers in Kenya, consistent with international ethical recruitment standards.

IOM staff conduct a workshop in Kenya
Photo courtesy of IOM.

Ethical recruitment is a key focus of the Fund’s efforts. Working within our intervention framework, we target reduction in supply of vulnerable individuals, demand for cheap goods and services, and the enabling environment that allows modern slavery to persist and traffickers to operate with impunity. This project includes elements that specifically target the demand and the enabling environment.

Read about a similar work in Uganda.

Addressing the demand for cheap goods and services through risk reduction, this project will focus on building and incentivizing  ethical recruitment practices. GFEMS and IOM will work with private recruitment agencies (PRAs) in Kenya, accredited and certified by the Government of Kenya through the National Employment Agency (NEA), to provide training, tools, and support to shift towards ethical recruitment, using IOM’s International Recruitment Integrity System (IRIS).

In addition to general outreach to PRAs, IOM will conduct recruitment integrity training for targeted PRAs annually and provide one-on-one interaction and guidance on a regular basis. These regular interactions and capacity-building initiatives are designed to help PRAs progress towards IRIS certifications as ethical recruiters. By improving ethical business practices, the project also aims to remove exploitative recruitment as a driver of trafficking within Kenya.

To address the enabling environment, GFEMS and IOM will work closely with the Government of Kenya to establish and pilot an oversight mechanism through which illegal or unethical recruitment recruiters can be identified and reported. This mechanism will monitor the Kenyan recruitment industry as a whole and identify PRAs and subagents who expose migrants to the risks of modern slavery. It will also provide a platform for communities to report suspected trafficking cases or PRAs practicing unethically. The Government will publish the list of reported PRAs and information on trafficking to alert migrants of dangerous recruiters and deter unethical practices.  Long term, the project aims to reduce cases of migrant worker trafficking by creating demand for ethical recruitment in targeted communities in Kenya.

GFEMS incorporates rigorous learning and evaluation agendas into all of its projects. In our IOM partnership, we will examine the implications of adopting IRIS standards for PRAs in Kenya, work to identify areas that the Government of Kenya can enhance its efforts to monitor recruitment practices, and assess the effectiveness and sustainability of the oversight mechanism. 

GFEMS incorporates rigorous learning and evaluation agendas into all of its projects. In our IOM partnership, we will examine the implications of adopting IRIS standards for PRAs in Kenya, work to identify areas that the Government of Kenya can enhance its efforts to monitor recruitment practices, and assess the effectiveness and sustainability of the oversight mechanism.

GFEMS looks forward to providing updates on this project and sharing our learnings with the anti-trafficking community. For updates on this project and others like it, subscribe to our newsletter, or follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn

This article and the IOM project were funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of State. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of State.

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GFEMS and IOM to bolster ethical recruitment and protect migrant workers from Uganda

GFEMS and IOM to bolster ethical recruitment and protect migrant workers from Uganda

As a part of our partnership with the U.S. Department to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, GFEMS is excited to share the launch of our new project with the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Coupled with other efforts in the portfolio, the Fund’s objective in this project is to create sustainable business models for the recruitment of migrant workers from Uganda, consistent with international ethical recruitment standards. 

Read about similar work in Kenya.

Ethical recruitment is a key focus of the Fund’s efforts. Working within our intervention framework, we target reduction in supply of vulnerable individuals, demand for cheap goods and services, and the enabling environment that allows modern slavery to persist and traffickers to operate with impunity. The activities in this project specifically target demand and the enabling environment. 

Addressing the demand for cheap goods and services, the project specifically targets strengthening commitments from private recruitment agencies (PRAs) to create consensus, cooperation, and an enabling environment for ethical recruitment across the sector in Uganda. GFEMS and IOM will work with PRAs in four key regions of Uganda to provide training, tools, and support to shift towards ethical recruitment. We will use IOM’s International Recruitment Integrity System (IRIS) Labor Recruiter Capacity Building Program. In addition to general outreach to PRAs, IOM will collaborate with Uganda Association of External Recruitment Agencies (UAERA) to increase interest in ethical recruitment and the training and ethical recruitment certification support available through the project. 

To transform the enabling environment, the project works with multi-stakeholder groups to improve policy, regulatory, and enforcement frameworks at national and local levels to enhance migrant protection and promote ethical recruitment. IOM will facilitate capacity-building activities on ethical recruitment for the government, including tailored training on ethical recruitment, migrant workers’ rights, and harmonization of labor migration policies among different ministries within the Government of Uganda. To ensure widespread adoption, the materials will be translated into all five major languages spoken within Uganda. 

GFEMS incorporates rigorous learning and evaluation agendas into all of its projects. In our IOM partnership, we will 

  1. Examine the implications of ethical recruitment practices on business models in Uganda.
  2. Identify the factors and tools that enable Ugandan authorities to implement policies and regulations that promote ethical recruitment. 

We aim to determine if it is possible to create early warning systems at the District Local Government and sub-county lower local government level that allow stakeholders to identify those most at risk of facing unethical recruitment.

GFEMS looks forward to providing updates on this project and sharing our learnings with the anti-trafficking community. For updates on this project and others like it, subscribe to our newsletter, or follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn

This article and the IOM project were funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of State. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of State

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