Why Ethical Recruitment is Key to Protecting Nigerian Labour Migrants

Why Ethical Recruitment is Key to Protecting Nigerian Labour Migrants

Why Ethical Recruitment is Key to Protecting Nigerian Labour Migrants

The recent revelations of poor working conditions at Amazon and the issue of the fair treatment of migrant workers at the Qatar 2022 World Cup show that forced labour is endemic across our supply chains.

There are an estimated 27 million people who are victims of forced labour, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Many of these victims are low skilled Nigerian migrant workers who migrate outside of the ECOWAS region to fill labour shortages in various sectors such as construction and agriculture as well as services such as domestic work. Nigerian migrant workers often pay extortionate fees in their home country to cover the cost of their recruitment overseas. This amount, which can often equal a month’s wages, leads to migrants taking out large loans, increasing their vulnerability to exploitation. Many cannot escape exploitative jobs as they have to work to repay unscrupulous recruiters, trapping them in cycles of debt.

Promoting ethical practices in nigeria

In Nigeria, the Ethical Recruitment Agency (TERA) is working from the bottom up to protect individuals from forced labour. TERA in Nigeria aims to promote the importance of ethical practices among recruiters, migrant workers and international businesses who recruit Nigerian labourers.

We aim to support Nigerian migrant workers at every stage of the labour migration process – from recruitment and deployment, through to employment. At the recruitment stage, TERA aims to eliminate exorbitant recruitment fees to protect migrant workers from situations of debt bondage. At the pre-departure stage, we train and prepare workers for overseas jobs through our skills program which unlocks behaviours essential to success. At the employment stage, we work with employers to secure non-exploitative jobs for Nigerian labour migrants beyond the ECOWAS region, whilst ensuring end to end welfare monitoring of workers to protect them from forced labour risks.

Tangible effects on worker welfare

TERA’s research shows that ethical recruitment can generate tangible effects on worker welfare, and create positive outcomes for worker retention and productivity. For recruiters and businesses who are committed to practising their operations in an ethical and transparent manner, ethical recruitment enhances company reputations, increases brand attractiveness and opens access to potential new investors and markets. Businesses who practise ethical recruitment benefit from higher levels of workplace morale, lower staff turnover, and improvements in efficiency and profits.

Establishing safe and ethical recruitment procedures is critical for safeguarding Nigerian migrant workers from exploitation and forced labour. By shifting demand away from exploitative recruitment to more ethical practices, we can avoid the negative impact of debt bondage on workers and their families, and create long term systemic change in labour migration practices in Nigeria.

New research: How TERA’s ethical recruitment services are protecting migrants

New research: How TERA’s ethical recruitment services are protecting migrants

Migrant workers are among the most vulnerable people in the world. In sending countries like Ethiopia, Indonesia, Nigeria, and India, people seeking work abroad frequently experience exploitative practices. Their vulnerability is driven by their dependence on a network of unlicensed and unscrupulous recruiters, sub-agents, and local brokers. Combined with asymmetrical migration information, low- and semi-skilled migrant workers are highly vulnerable to situations of forced labour that include document retention, illegal recruitment fees, contract substitution, deceptive recruitment, and debt bondage.

These are the challenges that The Ethical Recruitment Agency (TERA) is solving through sustainable, market-based solutions. TERA provides safe work opportunities abroad that enable migrant workers to benefit from their migration experiences. TERA’s worker welfare system exceeds and upholds the highest international recruitment standards, including by eliminating recruitment fees for migrant workers. TERA aims to transform the overseas labour recruitment sector by proving that ethical recruitment benefits both workers and businesses. 

Leveraging novel data from TERA’s operations, a new research study from Seefar The Pre-migration Impacts of Ethical Recruitment. Measuring the role of ethical recruitment on migration knowledge, decision-making, and vulnerability to forced labor” finds that ethical recruitment is an effective intervention to safeguard migrant workers and improve migrant worker outcomes, particularly during the pre-migration phase.

A lot of audiences assume that ethical recruitment is just ‘no fees’. But Seefar’s research demonstrates that ethical recruitment agencies can also play a significant role in pre-migration. With the right approach, ethical recruitment agencies can be more cost-effective than mass awareness campaigns, too, because of their financial sustainability and trust with prospective migrants.”

Jeff Bond (the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery)

This research suggests that ethical recruitment agencies like TERA play a powerful role in raising awareness of migration risks and illegal recruitment practices during the pre-departure phase. Based on this evidence, government officials and donors can begin to view ethical recruitment agencies as “two in one” interventions: marketing infrastructure to disseminate strategic migration messages, and livelihoods programming that empowers and safeguards the most vulnerable people. Seefar’s research also points to the continued need to mobilise public and private resources to combat forced labour during recruitment.  

Other key findings from the report include:

  • Respondents who received information on ethical recruitment by TERA were comprehensively more knowledgeable about the migration process, requirements, and risks than a separate group who did not interact with TERA.
  • Respondents who listed TERA as a trusted migration information source are more confident to make safer and better informed decisions than those who get their information elsewhere. 
  • There is a strong demand for ethical recruitment practices but there is a lack of knowledge of compliant recruitment providers. Ethical recruiters could disrupt the role of traditional recruitment actors by capitalizing on broad worker demand for zero fee recruitment, better-paying jobs, and transparent information aligning skills with opportunities.

Access the full report here: The Pre-migration Impacts of Ethical Recruitment. Measuring the role of ethical recruitment on migration knowledge, decision-making, and vulnerability to forced labor”.

For further information about TERA or to provide feedback on the research, please contact us at [email protected].

What really makes recruitment “ethical”?

What really makes recruitment “ethical”?

A quick Google search for “ethical recruitment” of migrant workers yields 111,000+ results. Everyone seems to be talking about ethical recruitment, from CEOs at Fortune 500 businesses to UN organisations to nonprofit organisations and platforms. There is a veritable alphabet soup of initiatives, organisations, and actors engaged in promoting ethical recruitment.

But when TERA launched in 2018, we were surprised to find that, as our friends at Migrant Forum in Asia wrote, “There is no official definition of ‘ethical recruitment.” Instead, ethical recruitment is a broad term used to describe many different kinds of interventions.  


A response to endemic problems

Ethical recruitment emerged in response to the well-documented challenges in migrant worker recruitment. Workers pay exorbitant fees to seek jobs abroad, often setting them on a path towards debt bondage. Workers can be deceived at nearly every step of the migration process. Local recruiters promise decent conditions and fair pay but workers often end up in situations of forced labour. Many migrants, including those working on high-profile international projects like the Qatar 2022 World Cup, experience severe difficulties abroad affecting their physical health, psychological well-being, and financial stability. All of these challenges begin with a recruitment process where intermediaries have a huge power and information advantage over workers. 


A simple idea?

In principle, the idea of ethical recruitment should be simple: ethical recruitment is exploitation-free recruitment. 

But digging a bit deeper, we found well over a dozen sets of standards, principles and codes of conduct defining ethical recruitment – or “fair recruitment,” “safe migration,” or any number of related terms. These include: 

These excellent resources have advanced better recruitment practices globally and made critical principles like “Employer Pays” popular. Today, most multinational companies have policies on forced labour and supplier codes of conduct that outline minimum recruitment standards.

The flip side, of course, is that these resources have become so abundant – and so varied in their content – that they risk obscuring what “ethical recruitment” really means in practice.  Put another way, one company’s “ethical recruitment” might be another company’s exploitation.  

One company’s “ethical recruitment” might be another company’s exploitation.


The three planks of ethical recruitment

While TERA was building our unique approach to ethical recruitment, we realised that all of the policies and guidance related to ethical recruitment could be distilled into three broad categories:

  1. Following the law. This is the most basic part of ethical recruitment: ensuring that worker recruitment complies with the laws and regulations of origin and destination countries.
  2. Eliminating (or reducing) recruitment fees. The real cost of recruitment to workers is often thousands of dollars. Some forms of ethical recruitment require reducing these fees to the minimum costs allowed by law; others prohibit fees altogether.
  3. Complying with core worker welfare principles. While the principles themselves may vary, compliance with at least one reputable set of standards is key to making recruitment ethical.


Advancing the field, one tough question at a time

The number of recruitment actors branding themselves as “ethical” is growing. Smart procurement officers, philanthropists and investors can make their dollars go further by asking a few straightforward questions, and in the process, learn exactly what kind of “ethical recruitment” they are getting:

  1. Clarify the definition of ethical recruitment. Ask recruiters about how (if) they interpret and operationalise the three pillars of ethical recruitment. If they comply with a set of worker welfare principles, clarify which set of principles – and why the recruiter uses them. If they operate in countries where the law falls short of top international standards, understand how recruiters go above and beyond legal compliance.
  2. Go beyond the “principle”. TERA follows 12 ethical principles, including our commitment to provide workers with clear and transparent employment contracts. Smart funders should ask questions that push beyond jargon-filled principles: for example, how do recruiters ensure workers actually understand the terms and conditions of their work agreements? (In TERA’s case, we achieve this by providing contracts in local languages, providing in-depth pre-departure training, and conducting independent verification.)
  3. Understand the recruitment model. Does the ethical recruiter directly recruit workers (like TERA) or partner with sub-agents to identify prospective workers? Working with third parties substantially raises the risk of exploitation. Do they vary their “ethical” approach by client. For example, do they charge fees to some workers but not others? Do they follow the same ethical model for all recruitments (like TERA)?

As TERA grows, we hope to share our knowledge and experience on ethical recruitment more broadly. Want to learn more? Reach out to us today at [email protected]