Regulating recruitment: labour and criminal justice responses in preventing trafficking in persons and migrant exploitation

A tripartite consultative workshop jointly organized by the ILO and UNODC.


This inter-regional workshop is jointly organized by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

With regard to ILO, this workshop is part of its global “Fair Recruitment Initiative”, which was announced in 2014 by the Director General in his report to the 103rd International Labour Conference stressing the “growing international concern about abusive and fraudulent recruitment practices affecting migrant workers in particular and issues of human trafficking and forced labour”. This multi-stakeholder initiative is designed and implemented in close collaboration with representative of workers’ and employers’ organizations, governments, the private sector and other key stakeholders. The overall strategy of the initiative is based on a four-pronged approach which aims to address regulatory and enforcement gaps, improve mechanisms of complaints and remedy, facilitate social dialogue on these issues and ultimately ensure compliance of private employment agencies and employers with national and international standards.

The ILO is uniquely placed to undertake work on fair recruitment. It has been key in the setting of international labour standards and has several fundamental instruments at its disposal. These include ILO’s Private Employment Agencies Convention, 1997 (No. 181) and Recommendation, 1997 (No. 188) which provide international standards for fair and decent labour recruitment practices. Equally important, a number of technical and sector-specific ILO Conventions regulate the recruitment of workers, most notably the Migration for Employment Convention (Revised) No. 97 (1949), the Migrant Workers (Supplementary Provisions) Convention No. 143 (1975), the Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189) and the Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188). The ILO’s Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations has frequently highlighted the link between abusive labour recruitment, violations of ILO Convention No. 181 and forced labour and/or human trafficking. This link was reaffirmed at the 2014 International Labour Conference during which a Protocol was adopted to supplement the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29). Article 2(d) of the Protocol calls for “protecting persons, particularly migrant workers, from possible abusive and fraudulent practices during the recruitment and placement process”.

In addition to this strong global expertise, in the past decade, the ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific has promoted fair recruitment practices across the region. The regional strategy focuses inter alia among other on undertaking research, providing legal and policy advisory services to put in place or develop national legislation to regulate recruitment in compliance with ILO Convention No. 181 and ensuring that appropriate complaints mechanism are in place. In the Middle East, the ILO also works to address legal and enforcement gaps linked to the recruitment of workers to ensure safe migration.

With regard to UNODC, this workshop is organized in the framework of its current research regarding the role of recruitment fees and recruitment agencies in the crime of trafficking in persons. The main objective of this research is to examine, better understand and consequently address the problem of fraudulent and abusive recruitment practices of recruitment agencies in the context of trafficking in persons, with a focus on criminal justice measures. The discussions of the workshop would help identify appropriate and effective practices, as well as challenges and lessons learned, in this regard.


National legislation which regulates the recruitment industry, embedded in labour and administrative laws and/or criminal laws, is often inadequate, complicated and weakly enforced. This workshop will focus on discussing good practices and gaps in statutory regulation and enforcement mechanisms, both at the national and multilateral level.

This joint consultative meeting will seek:
  • To discuss national, bilateral and multilateral challenges in regulating, monitoring and enforcing regulations on private employment agencies;
  • To review innovative approaches to the regulation of recruitment and understand their preventive role in combatting human trafficking practices and migrant exploitation;
  • To discuss recent evidence on the nexus between national regulation models and its impact on business practices in the recruitment industry;
  • To identify appropriate and effective criminal and labour justice responses in combatting abusive practices of recruitment agencies in the context of trafficking in persons and other forms of exploitation against migrants.

The conclusions collected during this workshop will feed an outcome document taking stock of the successes and challenges presented through the different regulatory models and labour and criminal justice approaches towards abusive recruitment practices in the context of trafficking in persons. They will help develop recommendations and guide a way forward in the provision of advisory services and technical assistance by the ILO and UNODC.