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Press Release

12 Apr 2021

Global brands failing to uphold promises of migrant worker protection

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Migrant workers across the globe are facing ongoing human rights abuses, with fresh analysis from KnowTheChain exposing brands for doing little to convert their policy promises into action. The briefing, released on 12 April 2021, traced promises made by large apparel brands to protect the rights of migrant workers and found that few have integrated these commitments into their supply chain practices.

Of 180 companies in the three sectors with high-risk supply chains (electronics, food and apparel), only 23 companies (13%) disclosed evidence of implementing policies to protect migrant workers. This includes policies on pressing issues such as that of recruitment fees. Many migrant workers are forced to pay back recruitment fees, even when they have not been paid their salaries or have lost their jobs. Companies taking steps to ensure remedy for supply chain workers remains the exception rather than the rule.

Case studies

The Apparel Sector and its Responsible Recruitment Commitment

In October 2018, more than 100 apparel companies signed the Commitment to Responsible Recruitment, agreeing to integrate the commitment in their standards by the end of 2019 and to report regularly on implementation. When looking at 22 of the largest global signatories of the commitment, KnowTheChain found that only 64% of these companies had integrated the commitment in their supply chain standards –- with only half disclosing evidence of also implementing the commitment in practice.

The Leadership Group for Responsible Recruitment

In 2016, organizations and companies across different sectors formed the Leadership Group for Responsible Recruitment to improve conditions for migrant workers. KnowTheChain assessed ten of the 15 company members (operating in electronics, food and apparel sectors) against their own commitments and found that while all ten companies prohibit worker-paid fees, 30% did not explicitly clarify who must pay the fees associated with recruited workers. Meanwhile, 60% failed to disclose evidence of implementation in their supply chains.

Felicitas Weber, KnowTheChain Project Director at the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, said: “Migrant workers are among those who have been hit hardest by the Covid-19 pandemic. We have heard cases of migrant workers struggling to access food in Brazil, suffering from debt bondage in Japan, and facing wage theft in Jordan, Thailand and the USA. Now more than ever, brands must remember the policy commitments they made and take urgent action to ensure these are embedded within their supply chain practices.

At a time when millions of migrant workers are suffering, companies can and should use their leverage to ensure the rights of migrant workers are respected. In particular, we strongly urge those brands who have committed to support migrant workers to look at whether these promises are effectively translating into action and ensure that migrant workers receive outstanding wages and are paid back recruitment fees rather than having to go hungry.  Brands will want to come out as leaders in this area, rather than laggards.”

David Schilling, Senior Program Director - Human Rights at the Interfaith Centre for Corporate Responsibility, said: “The Interfaith Centre for Corporate Responsibility is coordinating a group of more than 50 global investors that are pressing apparel companies to ensure migrant workers do not have to pay extortionate recruitment fees. While we are pleased to see a number of companies making progress, we urge the sector to take immediate steps and ensure workers are paid back what they are owed, including recruitment fees, wages, and severance pay.”


Note to editors:

  • Explore Our Findings by Company, Sector, and Region
  • View Recommendations, Cases Studies, And Examples of Corporate Practices

KnowTheChain benchmarks current corporate practices, develops insights, and provides practical resources that inform investor decisions and enable companies to comply with growing legal obligations while operating more transparently and responsibly. KnowTheChain is a partnership between Humanity United, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, Sustainalytics, and  Verité.

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is an international NGO that tracks the human rights impacts (positive and negative) of more than 10,000 companies across nearly 200 countries. We seek responses from companies when concerns are raised by civil society.

Media contact: Priyanka Mogul (London-based), Media Officer, Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, +44 (0) 7880 956239, [email protected]