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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 Responsibility.


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.

 

 
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