The Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition, which represents tech corporations around the world, says that its members will work to end the practice of recruitment fees in the supply chain. Advocacy groups note the fees amount to forced labor for low-paid workers.
In the age of the iPhone, it’s an issue akin to indentured servitude.
With factories around the world often in need of labor to help create the many products that have become essential for modern life, some staffing companies have given rise to scandal by requiring migrant workers to pay for the right to work at a facility. The result of these fees is that laborers—who are already working challenging, often dangerous jobs—are basically forced to work for at least a year to pay off sizable fees to job recruiters.
A recent example highlighted by The Guardian shows why such fees are so exploitative. The publication reported that a large-scale development project in the United Arab Emirates was forcing developers to work in what critics called “an open prison.” Many of the workers at the Saadiyat Island facility, who came from other countries, were forced to pay recruitment fees that would take years to pay off.
Taking a Strong Stance
But one electronics group is taking a hard line against such practices. The Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC), a trade group that represents more than 100 companies—including major smartphone manufacturers like Apple, Samsung, and Microsoft—announced this week that it would prioritize the eradication of forced labor practices this year. The first thing to go? Recruitment fees.
“Excessive recruitment fees are another major factor that can lead to forced labor, trapping workers in debt to the labor broker or employment agency that recruited or hired them for a position in the supply chain,” the group said in a news release announcing its vote in favor of banning such fees.
“Workers shall not be required to pay employers’ or agents’ recruitment fees or other related fees for their employment,” the group’s updated code of conduct states [PDF]. “If any such fees are found to have been paid by workers, such fees shall be repaid to the worker.”
The move was welcomed by advocacy groups—especially because the companies have significant clout to help curtail these practices.
“By taking this position, EICC has not only put its influence on the side of protecting vulnerable workers, but also lowered the risk that its member companies will contribute to human trafficking,” Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility Senior Program Director David Schilling told The Wall Street Journal.
Easier Said Than Done
While the move could prove to be a significant shift in practices for the electronics industry, it may not be an easy one. The WSJ report highlights the challenges that companies are likely to face, including laws in various countries that give job recruiters control over the quotas that make the fees possible. On top of this, one company that has been proactive on the issue, Hewlett Packard, says that implementing fee bans is often a major challenge due to the complexity of global supply chains.
“We didn’t have confidence that there was a reputable system in place to tell the difference between a good labor agent and a bad one,” Bob Mitchell, HP’s global manager for supply chain responsibility, told the newspaper.
Ultimately, though, EICC’s statement could help the industry stay on the right side of the debate, taking a stance shared by both the United Nations and the U.S. government.
“The support of our membership to further strengthen the EICC Code of Conduct and ban recruitment fees placed on workers demonstrates the industry’s commitment to combat forced labor worldwide,” EICC Executive Director Rob Lederer said in the group’s news release.