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Marie Apostol - TFHI - on Building a Community to Drive Responsible Recruitment

Only the efforts of the whole seafood community can drive responsible recruitment in the industry, says Marie Apostol, Founder and CEO of non-profit organisation, The Fair Hiring Initiative (TFHI).

Driving real change in recruitment practices across the seafood industry demands the combined and consistent efforts of the whole community. 

There has to be the will and the desire from businesses, governments, labour suppliers and agencies to prioritise responsible recruitment and accelerate progress. Businesses need to be incentivized – commercially as well as societally – to be ethical players, working only with agencies who share those values. Agencies need to be incentivized, too. For more recruitment agencies to see the value of certification, the market needs to demonstrate that if agencies operate ethically, they would be the first choice for businesses choosing their recruitment partners.

It is still early days in that process, but we are pleased to have successfully advised, trained and certified two Myanmar-based recruitment agencies: Alpha World Link and International Focus, through our On The Level (OTL) recognition programme, marking their commitment to the highest principles and standards of ethical recruitment.

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Myanmar trip

Working in collaboration with the Seafood Task Force, businesses like Dyson and Woolworths, and with the support of Humanity United, we we now have 30 agencies going through the programme and we hope to continue that growth as more companies see the reputational value of being ahead of the curve on ethical issues. More importantly, we want businesses to understand how that translates to actually improving people’s lives.

Labour supply chains in the seafood industry are complicated and opaque, so working with the Seafood Task Force is invaluable in terms of reaching all parts of the supply chain – from retailer to vessel or processor, to source country recruitment agency. The STF’s Code of Practice is helping to ensure that workers are treated well and are not charged exploitative recruitment costs – but it is vital that the Code is consistently enforced and that the message is continually heard across supply chains.

Our ultimate aim is to disrupt the long-standing practice of businesses getting their employees “free of charge” and workers thinking they have to pay to get a job, with exploitative agencies making enormous profits in the middle. Once employers start to pay the costs of recruitment and negotiate with agencies to agree on fair and reasonable costs, we will get to that level playing field.

Everyone in the value chain has to contribute to that system change. The cost of ethical recruitment and quality training has to go somewhere. Conversations need to be had between retailers and buyers, and suppliers, traders and  manufacturers, to reach some level of equitable sharing of the costs of recruitment. We need a transparent calculation of exactly how much extra a kilo of shrimp will cost through ethical suppliers so people can make reasonable decisions on how that cost is covered. Either businesses take a profit reduction or they pass this on to consumers. Regardless, it’s a commercial decision that has profound impacts on workers’ lives.  What is non-negotiable is that workers should not bear this cost.

The rewards of that system change are enormous. Ethical recruitment advances sustainable business practices, professionalises the recruitment industry, and – most importantly – provides migrant workers the dignity they deserve, while helping to work against human trafficking and modern slavery. 

Change is happening and we should celebrate our victories, but until we reach a critical number of certified ethical recruitment firms, there are not enough to meet demand and businesses – many of whom will be hiring workers from a number of different countries – will continue to work with agencies who don’t operate to the highest standards.

Communities support each other and my sincere hope is that the seafood community will work together at every level to replicate our early successes on responsible recruitment and accelerate the transformation of this vital industry.

  • Marie Apostol is Founder and CEO of The Fair Hiring Initiative – a team of recruitment professionals, trainers and consultants, dedicated to improving the lives of migrant workers. She is also Founder and Executive Director of Verité South East Asia
  • On The Level is a private recruitment and employment certification and recognition programme supported by cross-border recruitment principles and standards

The views in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the STF.

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