As Recruitment Advisor turns five, ensuring decent work for migrant workers remains a huge challenge


This April marks the fifth anniversary of the launch of, an online platform supported by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and hosted by independent trade unions to help migrant workers across the world access fair recruitment and decent work. Set up to protect migrant workers from abusive employment practices, the website provides crucial information about recruitment agencies and workers’ rights.

Its development was supported by the International Labour Organization (ILO) Fair Recruitment Initiative which was launched following the adoption of the ILO Forced Labour Protocol and Recommendation in 2014. The Forced Labour Protocol is now in force in more than 50 countries, however, recent global estimates show that 27.6 million people remain in forced labour. Unfair recruitment increases the risk of the extreme exploitation of workers and keeps them further away from decent work.

In support of calls to take action against debt bondage, trafficking in persons and forced labour – which migrant workers are three times more likely to be affected by –trade unions have actively promoted the ILO’s 2016 General Principles & Operational Guidelines for Fair Recruitment to influence national legislation and policies on fair recruitment and safe migration.

From social dialogue and tripartite discussions to grassroot-level activities on raising awareness and organising migrant workers, unions strive to protect workers from exploitation in this current environment of high unemployment and intense competition for jobs, a situation which has been exacerbated by Covid-19. Recruitment Advisor is an invaluable tool in these efforts. However, despite the progress made through the platform, many complex challenges remain.

Even with this new legal framework and the commitment of many governments to zero-cost recruitment, migrant workers continue to pay exorbitant fees for overseas employment.

Through Recruitment Advisor, unions are now able to collect web-based evidence derived from workers’ voices and can produce accurate data at the negotiation table to help secure policy reforms on recruitment fees with governments and businesses.

For example, according to a 2022 report from the General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions (GEFONT), only less than 2 per cent of the 1,593 Nepali migrant workers who shared their experiences on Recruitment Advisor did not pay for recruitment fees or other recruitment-related costs. On average they paid US$855 to get jobs abroad, the report states. Similarly, the Central Organisation of Trade Unions in Kenya (COTU-K) reported that 76 per cent of workers paid recruitment fees and other costs such as medical tests, orientation, training, travel and lodging. This data reaffirms the need to improve policy and increase inspection to address the issue of charging recruitment fees to workers as this is the root cause of the debt bondage that leads workers to forced labour.

An innovative approach to organising migrant workers

Based on the ITUC’s 2022 Global Rights Index ,113 countries exclude workers from their right to establish or join a trade union. This trend also reflects key findings from a Recruitment Advisor report supported by the All-Indonesian Trade Union Confederation (KSBSI) from the same year which shows that 80 per cent of workers have no access to unions and that forming a union can lead to unilateral dismissal or the immediate deportation of workers.

While unions around the world continue to face complex challenges in organising all workers – particularly migrant workers – Recruitment Advisor has been actively used as an organising tool by unions to reach out to migrant workers and build trust. In addition, unions that utilise the platform have been able to increase cooperation with other unions in origin or destination countries. Such efforts remain fundamental in building migrant workers’ collective power to protect their rights.

For example, a union affiliated to the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU) at a company that hired thousands of migrant workers from South Asia to work as cleaners, managed to get around 1,000 migrant workers to join its union and successfully negotiated an updated collective agreement that increased wages for all staff. Bahrain is one of the first destination countries where its national centre uses and promotes Recruitment Advisor.

But in order to achieve a fundamental economic transformation that will benefit all of the world’s people, including migrant workers, we need a new model of social contract; one that secures jobs, rights, universal social protection, equality and inclusion for all. But these things cannot be realised without a fair recruitment process as the first act in establishing decent work.

Ideally, with internet access and digital literacy made available to everyone, a cultural shift in the use of technology amongst workers is possible, and Recruitment Advisor can reach its full potential as a global online resource that builds solidarity amongst a community of workers who share their recruitment experiences. The challenge is that unlike commercial review platforms, where customers have the power to evaluate the services that they have used from company providers, migrant workers are often deterred from sharing their stories for fear of being blacklisted or losing their jobs. The ITUC will therefore continue to support Recruitment Advisor and other efforts using innovative technologies to protect the rights of workers and to empower them.

We also wish to collaborate with others who undertake activities to promote fair recruitment and wish to use this platform on the condition that it remains autonomous and its workers protected. It offers a unique opportunity to have the independent verification of recruitment practices in any country or specific sector. Only by uniting forces, we can effectively work towards what clearly appears as a common goal for governments, businesses, and workers: fair recruitment and decent work to ensure a well-functioning labour market.

For more information on using the data collected by Recruitment Advisor or to join the initiative, please email [email protected]