Ethical recruitment holds the key to preventing human trafficking

Kenya has over 600 private recruitment agencies (PRAs) that find job placements for Kenyans beyond the borders, especially in Gulf Cooperation Council countries mainly Saudi Arabia, Qatar and United Arab Emirates which are in need of semi-skilled labourers.

But only 40 percent of these agencies are registered with the National Employment Authority (NEA) and there are many reports of fraudulent recruitment practices, leading to the exploitation and abuse of Kenyan migrant workers.

Unscrupulous recruitment agencies subject labour migrants to exploitative recruitment processes through false promises of employment, high wages, good living conditions, as well as quick procedures that bypass government regulations on labour migration. Additionally, they charge high and non-refundable fees and issue unclear contracts.

High recruitment fees often lead to debt bondage as labourers’ wages are deducted over a period to reimburse the amount. Unscrupulous recruiters often take advantage of the migrants limited education and language skills, desperation for employment, and lack of adequate and credible information on labour migration.

Such unethical recruitment practices often result in forced labour and labour exploitation – both of which are forms of human trafficking, one of the world’s most serious transnational crimes and complex human rights challenges. Therefore, protection and rights of migrant workers throughout the recruitment process must be prioritised.

The starting point is to ensure that recruitment practices by agencies are consistent with international practices and standards and operate within the Kenyan legal framework. The Labour Institution Act regulates cross-border recruitment by PRAs including the registration requirements, agents’ obligations, and penalties for violations.

Building the capacity of PRAs to practise ethical recruitment that is fair for the migrant workers, recruiters, and employers is critical. NEA with support from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is training these agencies on the International Integrity Recruitment Integrity System.

IRIS is a voluntary certification process built on seven principles: respect for law and fundamental rights; ethical and professional conduct; prohibition of recruitment costs to migrant workers; respect for freedom of movement; transparency of terms of employment; confidentiality and data protection; and respect for accesses to remedy. Migrants going through a registered agency can also be assisted during crisis and distress.

Furthermore, NEA has established an oversight mechanism and community feedback mechanism to strengthen monitoring and oversight of recruitment agencies. These mechanisms aim to enhance ethical recruitment while preventing trafficking in persons during the recruitment process.

The oversight mechanism is a platform for promoting identification, monitoring, and reporting of unethical recruitment practices and illegal activities by recruiters. It also rewards and sanctions PRAs. The community feedback mechanism allows for soliciting receiving and/or channelling complaints and community feedback and promotes knowledge and awareness on ethical recruitment and trafficking in persons.

Adopting ethical recruitment practices is a win-win situation for all: for the migrants who will be recruited with lower risk of falling victims to human trafficking; for the private recruiters as they can be considered as credible business suppliers; and for the employers who will be able to ensure an exploitation-free supply chain.

Despite the mentioned significant milestones, there is need for the government of Kenya to hasten the enactment of the Labour Migration Bill 2021 and adopt the Labour Migration Policy to ensure that challenges of labour migration and risks of trafficking in persons are addressed.

The writer is the Chief of Mission IOM Kenya.

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