Non-discrimination and migrant workers

This page presents all relevant good practice case studies that showcase how business have addressed the Migrant workers dilemma. Case studies have been developed in close collaboration with a range of multi-national companies and relevant government, inter-governmental and civil society stakeholders. We also draw on public domain sources, including the UN Global Compact's own published Communications on Progress through which signatories are required to report on their performance against the Ten Principles.

The case studies explore the specific dilemmas and challenges faced by each organisation, good practice actions they have taken to resolve them and the results of such action. We reference challenges as well as achievements and invite you to submit commentary and suggestions through the Forum.

IN-DEPTH (Print seperately) Marks & Spencer: Improving controls on migrant labour providers - Global

IN-DEPTH (Print seperately) Maple Leaf Foods: Labour shortages and migration - Global

IHRB: Migration Programme and Dhaka Principles for Migration with Dignity – Global

The Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB) - seeks to foster greater business involvement, facilitate dialogue, strengthen the debate and support private-sector led initiatives to raise standards in relation to business and migration. Over an initial three-year period (2010-12), four separate roundtables have been convened in developed countries and emerging markets including both sending and receiving countries (of migrant workers), focusing on issues that are relevant locally to the businesses and other parties who are participating. Companies, public sector policy-makers and civil society partner participation in these meetings has led to the development of The Dhaka Principles for Migration with Dignity. For full details on the Dhaka Principles, see:

Manpower: Providing language programmes to migrant workers - Global

Manpower conducts language programmes in nearly every country that it operates in. In Mexico, for example, Manpower works with the Mexican Institute for Migration to provide Spanish-language lessons to candidates alongside other training. Candidates from Congo, Haiti, Sri Lanka and other locations rely on these lessons to help prepare them for work with Manpower Mexico clients. Similarly, in collaboration with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the company is working in Thailand’s Mae La Refugee camp to provide programs that help 50 refugees who have been accepted for settlement in the United States to learn English-language skills.

Apple: Ensuring supplier responsibility for recruitment practices – Global

Apple’s Supplier Responsibility 2009 Progress Report highlighted that the recruitment of migrant workers by its suppliers posed the most serious challenge to the company. Apple’s suppliers use multiple third-party labour agencies to source workers from other countries. The fees that migrant workers paid at six of the 83 suppliers audited amounted to around US$852,000. In its 2010 report , Apple noted that as a result of audits and corrective actions, migrant workers have been reimbursed over US$2.2 million in recruitment fee overcharges since 2008. In addition to demanding reimbursement of the recruitment fees, Apple updated its Supplier Code of Conduct and issued a standard for Prevention of Involuntary Labour. Apple suppliers are required to take responsibility for the entire recruitment process of direct and contract workers, including for payment of all fees. The standard for Prevention of Involuntary Labour limits recruitment fees to the equivalent of one month’s net wages and specifies management practices regarding contract requirements, grievance processes, agency management, and the handling of workers’ passports, as well as other stipulations for managing foreign contract workers.

Unilever/ACWF: Assisting children left behind by migrant workers – China

Unilever partnered with the All-China Women’s Federation (ACWF) in June 2009 to provide assistance to the children left behind by migrant worker parents in 10 Chinese provinces. The initiative is expected to benefit around 600,000 families. Under the programme, ‘love cards’ and parent-child telephone cards will be issued, along with practical guidance to families with children left at home while their parents migrate from rural to urban China for work. The initiative is designed to facilitate regular communication between migrant workers and their families.

Timberland: Providing life skills training to migrant workers – China

Timberland partnered with global labour rights advocate organisation Verité in 2003 to provide life skills training to its workers in China. Skills training included enhancing computer literacy, tailoring/sewing skills and cultural knowledge. Part of this training was directed specifically at migrant workers, with a particular emphasis on Cantonese language skills.

Western Union: Providing assistance to migrants through education – Global

In 2007, Western Union launched a five-year US$50 million giving program ‘Our World, Our family.’ The programme is founded on four pillars: ‘create global giving circles’ (social investment to benefit marginalised communities); provide education programmes and tools to migrants, with a particular focus on community orientation, basic language skills and careers advice; support entrepreneurship and personal finance to potential migrants, and; engage global leaders on the issues that affect migrant communities.

MAS Holdings: Locating factories in rural areas to avoid migration– Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan apparel manufacturer MAS Holdings has taken the strategic decision to base many of its factories in rural villages rather than free trade zones in order to minimise relocation of female workers away from their families (it is common for Sri Lankan women in their mid-twenties to migrate from rural villages to free trade zones). This also reduces their exposure to risks associated with migrant workers in Sri Lanka, including sexual abuse. Company buses pick up workers from nearby villages and drop them at the factory gate to minimise safety concerns.

Bata: Locating factories in rural areas to avoid migration into cities – Thailand

Canadian footwear company Bata partnered with the Thai Business Initiative in Rural Development in 1991 to develop a sewing program in the rural Thai village of Ban Nong Bod, Buri Ram province. In 1992, Bata supported the development of a sewing cooperative in the province, which now produces more than 1,000 pairs of shoes per day. In 1994, the workers were paid more than double the prevailing agricultural wage. The Bata project has focussed primarily on employing women, who are most at risk of exploitation if they leave the villages. An evaluation of the Bata project shows that two thirds of the women employed at the cooperative factory are former migrants who have returned from Bangkok.

Nike: Providing direct remedy for violations in the supply chain - Malaysia

In August 2008, an investigation by an Australian television channel alleged the exploitation of around 1,200 migrant workers from Bangladesh, Vietnam and Myanmar in a Hytex Group factory in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The Hytex factory makes t-shirts for Nike, among others. Although the factory met minimum wage requirements, workers were housed in sub-standard accommodation, had their passports withheld and had excessive and unfair monthly wage deductions. The practice of withholding passports was allegedly used by the factory to compel workers to pay their own employment-permit fees, ordinarily paid by the company. Nike immediately investigated and confirmed the claims and implemented an immediate action plan to protect the rights of workers in its Malaysian supply chain. Nike required Hytex to make the following non-negotiable and immediate changes: (1) Reimburse migrant workers for fees associated with employment (e.g. recruitment and work permit fees); (2) Pay all future fees associated with employment as a cost of doing business; (3) Provide a return airfare for workers wishing to return home, irrespective of contract requirements; (4) Move workers into new Nike-inspected and approved housing (5) Provide workers with immediate and unrestricted access to their passports; (6) Provide workers with access to a 24-hour Nike hotline to report violations. Nike also committed to review its entire Malaysian contract factory base and require factories to institute these same policies. In addition, Nike has engaged with a local NGO, Tenaganita, to implement management training programmes in Nike supplier factories, targeting improved treatment of migrant workers.

ASI/ IHRB: Staff Wanted Initiative to tackle the exploitation of migrant workers in hospitality – UK

The Staff Wanted Initiative is a joint programme between the Institute for Human Rights and Business and Anti-Slavery International (supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation). It aims to address the exploitation of migrant agency workers in the UK hospitality sector by working with business partners and other stakeholders to identify practices that can result in worker exploitation – and advocated improved practice and risk mitigation. The Initiative has resulted in the development of the pragmatic ‘SEE’ guidelines (‘Scrutinise - Engage – Ensure’) to encourage better engagement between hotels and those who work in them – as well as further guidance regarding best practice to prevent exploitation.

Qatar Foundation: Introducing "Mandatory Standards" for contractors - Qatar

In April 2013, the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development published the ‘Mandatory Standards of Migrant Workers’ Welfare for Contractors and Sub-Contractors’. The foundation also signed a Migrant Workers Welfare Charter and established a Workers’ Welfare Department as part of a due diligence system for monitoring and implementing human rights standards throughout contracting networks and service providers. The Mandatory Standards set out a range of contractor and sub-contractor obligations, including ethical recruitment and employment practices. Importantly, contractors are obliged to ensure that any recruitment agency that they use is adequately licensed and that no recruitment, processing or placement fees are charged to workers. Additionally it is stipulated that “The terms of the employment contract Workers sign upon their arrival in Qatar shall be identical to the terms of the Original Offer of Employment which they received in their country of origin.” These provisions respond to significant contemporary challenges to the human rights of migrant workers in Qatar and demonstrate a responsible approach to doing business in the country.


Apple: Eliminating recruitment fees in the supply chain - Global

Apple’s Supplier Responsibility 2014 Progress Report recognises that in countries where labour is in short supply, manufacturers often use complex networks of third party suppliers to fill factories with workers from other countries. This often results in workers being forced to pay extortionate recruitment fees in exchange for employment, meaning many find themselves in debt before they even start work. In order to repay this debt, they must remain at the job, handing significant portions of their earnings back to recruiters.

In a 2014 BBC documentary reported a series of alleged labour violations at Apple supplier factories. These included extended working hours, confiscated identity cards and cramped dormitories – all of which violate the Prevention of Involuntary Labour standard in Apple’s Supplier Code of Conduct.

The Supplier Code of Conduct also requires suppliers to reimburse excessive recruitment fees for any worker found to be working on Apple products. According to the Supplier Responsibility 2014 Progress Report, suppliers have reimbursed a total of US$16.9 million to contract workers since 2008, including payments totalling US$3.9 million in 2013. This is enforced by regular bonded labour audits to ensure suppliers comply with Apple standards.


EICC: Developing standards for the reimbursement of recruitment fees - Global

In 2015, the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC), a non-profit coalition of leading electronics companies, amended their Code of Conduct to promote the reimbursement of recruitment fees to workers. The amendment to the Code states: "Workers shall not be required to pay employers’ or agents’ recruitment fees or other related fees for their employment. If any such fees are found to have been paid by workers, such fees shall be repaid to the worker."

EICC’s position reflects a growing consensus among businesses that recruitment fees should be eradicated. Removing the payment of fees by workers has been identified as essential to reducing indebtedness among recruited workers, and thus reducing the degree to which they may be controlled by a third party and forced to engage in work involuntarily. In addition, the EICC’s position reflects legislative initiatives, such as the U.S. Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) final rule on Ending Trafficking in Persons, issued to implement President Obama’s Executive Order on Strengthening Protections Against Trafficking in Persons in Federal Contracts. 

Nestle: Introduction of action plan on the responsible sourcing of seafood - Thailand

In response to the August 2015 lawsuit filed against Nestle for the alleged use of slave labour in its supply chain (as a result of violations of the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act) Nestle has released an action plan on the responsible sourcing of seafood. Nestle was being sued over claims that its Fancy Feast cat food contained fish from a Thai supplier using forced labour. Following the lawsuit, Nestle adopted a major and comprehensive action plan to demonstrate its commitment to eradicating the risks of forced labour in its seafood supply chain in Thailand. The action plan entails establishing a system to improve the traceability of seafood; a training program on fair recruitment practices for fishing boat-owners; an audit programme to verify working conditions on vessels; and the establishment of both a grievance mechanism for fishers and a Migrant Workforce Emergency Response Team. This team will be responsible for the protection and remediation of Thai fishers subject to abusive working conditions.   


HP: Reinforcing the protection of migrant workers – Global

In 2014, HP became the first company in the computing and electronics industry to require the direct employment of foreign migrant workers in its supply chains. This requirement also includes upholding workers’ rights in relation to the retention of passports and personal documentation and the elimination of worker-paid recruitment fees.

The standard builds on current efforts to educate suppliers on best practices and supports HP’s Supplier Code of Conduct, which expressly forbids forced and involuntary labour. To ensure its implementation, HP will complement its existing Supply Chain Responsibility programme with specialised forced labour audits and regular monitoring.