Eliminating Forced Labor Starts with Tackling Recruitment Fees 

I’ve spent time in South India, trying to help families forced to work in rice mills and brick kilns. They were offered what seemed to be decent job--if they agreed to pay a large fee upfront—so they took outloans, calculating that they’d be able to pay back the recruitment fee in a matter of months. But they soon found themselves forced to endure back-breaking work for 14, 16, sometimes 18 hours a day for little or no salary, and they “owed” their employers for housing. This housing, mind you, was sometimes no more than a 10-feet by 10-feet cement room. For context, an average horse stall is 12-feet by 12-feet. Children were kept from school and the families weren’t allowed to leave the property. They were slaves.

I’ve also met men who returned from working on U.S. military bases. After being promised a high paying job in the hospitality industry in Doha or Dubai, they paid a fee to a recruiter and got on a plane. Only when they landed, they found themselves stuck in a combat zone working on a U.S. military base for little to no pay, with no access to their immigration documents, and no proof that they were there legally. In order to pay the recruitment fee upfront, most workers had to sign over their home as collateral for a loan so even if they escaped, they often had no home to return to.

1437_Bihari-family1

1437_Bihari-family1

These stories are common all over the globe. The U.S. government recently released new regulations to protect workers on U.S. contracts from these abuses. Contractors, or their recruitment agents, are now not allowed to charge workers a fee upfront just to get the job. They can’t hold onto their immigration documents and workers are entitled to a written contract—in their own language—before they leave home. It may seem obvious that workersshould expect a contract and be allowed access to their own passport, but the fact is these practices are commonplace and leave workers vulnerable to slavery all over the world, and not just on U.S. government contracts. More needs to be done.

HP and Apple recently announced that they’re no longer contracting with suppliers who charged their workers recruitment fees. With an estimated 21 million victims worldwide, at least 14 million of whom are labor trafficked, it’s a simple policy that will have a huge impact on disrupting the business behind this illicit recruitment. Trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise because it’s profitable. To combat trafficking, we have to flipthe risk-reward equation for those who profit from trafficking. And businesses can make a significant dent by following HP and Apple’s example and banning their suppliers from charging recruitment fees.

HRF-Annik-Febrey-2014[1]

HRF-Annik-Febrey-2014[1]

AnnickFebrey is Senior Associate of Human Rights First's Campaign to Disrupt the Business of Human Trafficking. Learn more at humanrightsfirst.org