According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), there were approximately 24.9 million workers in situations of forced labor in 2016. These workers were made vulnerable to conditions that contribute to forced labor such as high recruitment fees, personal debt, complicated recruitment practices, a lack of transparency about their eventual working conditions, restrictions to their freedom of movement, and inadequate legal protections in the countries in which they work.
Companies have a moral obligation act if forced labor exists in their supply chains. They also have financial incentives because of risks to their operations, reputations and, in some cases, sales. Awareness of these issues among companies across industries is at an all-time high, thanks to increased scrutiny and pressure from government regulators, non-governmental organizations, customers, institutional investors and media.
Although international guiding principles on forced labor are well-established, enforcement and solutions tend to be fragmented across geographies and industries, often addressing only certain aspects or specific points in a worker’s journey. The differences in recruitment and employment standards in the countries of origin and destination have contributed to the challenge of ensuring a safe migration corridor for workers. At the same time, where multiple industries are sharing recruitment actors and corridors, solutions are often implemented separately rather than cohesively. Therefore, a healthy and harmonized recruitment ecosystem needs to be aligned and supported by all stakeholders. The Responsible Business Alliance’s Responsible Labor Initiative was established to tackle this challenge by adopting a multi-industry and multi-stakeholder solution-oriented approach.
The RLI’s approach is aligned with due diligence expectations set out in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct. This approach enables companies to assess and address risk, prevent potential forced labor impacts and remediate actual impacts in their own operations, their supply chain and other business relationships. (Please refer to Remedy for information on remediation.)
Although unethical recruitment practices are one of the most widespread contributing factors to forced labor, there are many other drivers of forced and exploitative labor. Therefore, the RLI approaches forced labor due diligence in a holistic manner, not only supporting factories or workplaces but also recruitment actors in their due diligence journey. This support is manifested through various tools, training, programs and collaborative projects with external stakeholders.