April 10, 2015
Electronics Trade Association Prohibits Payments to Labor Brokers
by Robert Kropp
The amendment to the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition's Code of Conduct follows engagement
on the issue of payments to labor brokers by members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate
In 2014, the Interfaith Center on
Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) launched the No Fees Initiative, an effort to ensure that
workers in the most vulnerable corporate supply chains are not forced to pay for their employment.
As a 2010 report
by Verite pointed out, the involvement of largely unregulated labor brokers in supply chain
employment forces migrant workers to assume recruitment debts that can be impossible to pay back.
“The existence of the debt—and the worker’s urgent need to repay it— mean that the
worker can more easily be manipulated by the employer to accept lower wages than were promised,
poor working conditions, excessive work hours, or similar abusive practices,” Verite states.
“Debt-burdened workers are also much more vulnerable to threats of deportation—and consequent loss
of their earning potential – than workers with no debt obligations. In this way, debt leads to
human trafficking and debt bondage.”
"In borrowing money, workers take on a substantial
amount of risk," Verite Executive Director Dan Viederman said. "If they cannot pay off the loan,
they are putting their property and families at risk.”
Initially, ICCR's No Fees campaign
focused on the food and agricultural sectors, where widespread human rights violations are known to
exist. But as the number of suicides over working conditions at Foxconn, the Chinese supplier of
electronics for Apple and other US-based companies, demonstrated, severe human rights violations
are not limited to laborers in agricultural fields.
So in January of this year, ICCR
convened a roundtable that included representatives of several high-risk industries, including
electronics. “ICCR’s roundtables create important dialogue on practical ways to end forced labor in
supply chains,” said Bob Mitchell of HP, which had established a standard in November eliminating
recruitment fees in its supply chain.
On April 1st, version 5.0 of the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition's (EICC) Code of Conduct took
effect, which 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.”
The Code also “prohibits the holding of
passports and other key worker documents as well as unreasonable restrictions on movement and
access to basic liberties, and requires that workers are provided with a written employment
agreement in their native language prior to departing from their country of origin,” EICC stated.
In response, David Schilling, Senior Program Director at ICCR, said,
“Adding this critical ‘No Fees’ component to its code of conduct makes clear its intention to
install needed human rights safeguards that will ensure vulnerable workers desperate for work in
the electronics sector will not be exploited and enslaved through unethical recruitment practices.”
“When a respected industry coalition like the EICC votes in favor of adopting a
zero-tolerance policy on charging recruitment fees to workers it essentially raises the bar for the
industry and has the potential for powerful far-reaching impact,” Valentina Gurney, the coordinator
of ICCR's No Fee Initiative, said.
EICC stated that one of the primary goals of its
revised Code of Conduct was to better align it with the Guiding Principles on
Business and Human Rights, which was endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011.