Leading the industry with action on root causes
In 2014, reports of forced labor linked to migrant recruitment practices in the electronics industry supply chain in Malaysia were coming to the surface, catching the eye of HP Inc. At the time, the company itself was identifying, through various assessment mechanisms across diverse geographic regions, that migrant workers are a particularly vulnerable population in terms of severe human rights impacts connected to the business.
Thinking critically about the root causes of forced labor among this community, HP determined that hiring workers through recruitment agencies or labor brokers is too high a risk for the people involved in the company’s supply chain.
HP released its Foreign Migrant Worker Standard in 2014 and partnered with expert organization Verité to build a body of research and dedicated program in response to the issue of forced labor among migrant workers.
The standard goes beyond general industry practice in addressing forced labor – which primarily focuses on implementing policies banning recruitment fees – to require that the company’s suppliers directly employ any foreign migrant workers in their workforce. While recruiters may still be used, once a worker is placed, they must become a formal employee of the HP supplier.
More specifically, the standard “prohibits [HP] suppliers from outsourcing the migrant worker employment relationship to third-party labor brokers – a major source of vulnerability for migrant workers – as well as eliminating the practice of charging workers recruitment fees and requiring that workers hold their own passports." The standard also requires employment contracts written in the worker’s native language.
HP is the first company in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector to require all of these practices.
“HP’s Foreign Migrant Worker Standard remains a very forward-looking approach. It takes commitment around forced labor one step further to identify a root problem – indirect employment – as a key risk factor. The company decided to not try and work around that risk, but instead develop a standard to address it. This is clear leadership and hopefully more companies will take this kind of work on.”
HP has so far implemented its Foreign Migrant Worker Standard by:
“A key lesson learned from our work in this area is that you can’t do it alone. Internally, this means having a committed tone from the top and across the various functions involved. For instance, we couldn’t do this work if we didn’t have support from our procurement managers, who understand the issues and drive the actions on a daily basis.
Then, we need collaboration within and across industries to build our influence and create real change for the people affected. Our work with RBA from day one is an example of this approach, as well as our broader engagement with organizations such as Verité and local NGOs. We’re proud that we’ve taken this collective approach from the start.
Each company needs to do their part to ensure freely chosen labor, whether you are a global company where you have a large scope to work with or a small business where you see the issues every day.”
The company has received feedback that the direct hiring requirement has resulted in its suppliers gaining important knowledge about recruitment agencies and monitoring their practices in a more effective and sustainable manner.
“HP’s strong relationships with its suppliers is at the core of our Foreign Migrant Worker Standard. Implementation is not perfect, and it takes time, but responsible engagement is our approach.
We try to be transparent and clear and we ask that of our suppliers in return. As long as there’s a corrective action plan in place and we’re working proactively on that together with the supplier and building our leverage, we will always stay committed to progressing forward and not cutting off the relationship. Otherwise, it’s the workers that are most harmed.
We’ve had a paradigm shift in our thinking – instead of being anxious about going and looking for the issues, we recognize that this is our responsibility. And, in fact, this has been really freeing. We know we’re going to find issues, so we identify them and then get more quickly to the important work of addressing them in meaningful and positive ways.”