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Ensuring fair recruitment: What the ILO has achieved

Ensuring fair recruitment: What the ILO has achieved

A recruitment process is only fair when carried out within the law and in line with the International Labour Standards, but most importantly when it respects human rights.

Building on ILO’s extensive experience in improving labour migration and preventing forced labour, the Fair Recruitment Initiative was launched in 2014 to protect workers from abuse and exploitation, while also responding to labour market needs.

As the ILO launches the second phase of the Fair Recruitment Initiative, we look at how it has reformed recruitment laws and practices around the world, and has improved workers’ lives.

The Fair Recruitment Initiative is based on 4 pillars:

  1. Sharing global knowledge on national and international recruitment processes
  2. Improving laws, policies and enforcement to promote fair recruitment
  3. Promoting fair business practices
  4. Empowering and protecting workers

The Initiative was designed to foster strong alliances with international and local partners, and to support the Global Compact for Safe Orderly and Regular Migration and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Pillar 1: Sharing global knowledge on national and international recruitment processes

Eliminating worker paid recruitment costs is a critical step to ensuring fair recruitment

Increasingly, migrant workers face high economic and social costs when migrating internationally. These costs arise from unclear international recruitment processes, through which workers – and particularly low-skilled workers – incur large fees. An important step to reducing recruitment costs is to understand and measure the actual costs migrant workers face when they seek jobs abroad.

The ILO and the World Bank have developed a method to examine the costs migrant workers face – the first and most accurate of its kind. 

Journalists have a key role to play in raising awareness

Journalists have a voice that many workers do not. They can shine a light on abusive practices and the denial of fundamental human and labour rights.

With expert journalists and trainers, the ILO created a toolkit to help media professionals report accurately, respectfully and ethically on forced labour and fair recruitment. The toolkit guides journalists on reporting mistreatment of migrant workers without dehumanizing and victimizing those workers, in a way that respects their agency and voice.

The ILO has cultivated a global network of journalists engaging and writing on this topic. Its annual Global Media Competition on Labour Migration promotes quality reporting on labour migration issues. In 2020, we received 290 entries from 67 countries.

“Journalists use the raw material that they have in their hands to write stories, but when they don’t have definitions, hey have few tools in hand to explain the situation. I believe the toolkit helps them talk about migrants as human beings, not criminals.”

Leonardo Sakamoto, competition judge and contributor to the media toolkit

"We need to start creating discipline for migration reporting. This is not something that is going to go away and it is going to continue to be a part of the global economic community.”

Ana Santos, 2019 winner and contributor to the media toolkit


Pillar 2: Improving laws, policies and enforcement to promote fair recruitment

Global guidance on fair recruitment, recruitment fees and related costs 

The General Principles and Operational Guidelines for Fair Recruitment is an internationally recognized guidance document created to improve regulations and approaches to promoting fair recruitment and decent work.

The General Principles inform international organizations, national legislatures and social partners how to ensure fair recruitment. They cover recruitment both within and across countries. The General Principles give direction at all levels, while the Operational Guidelines address responsibilities of specific actors in the recruitment process.

A clear definition of recruitment fees and related costs

Following in-depth global research and exchanges and negotiation by experts at a tripartite meeting, the ILO adopted a comprehensive definition covering national and international recruitment. 

The definition allows governments and the private sector to develop or improve their own policies and frameworks and recognizes the principle that workers shall not be charged directly or indirectly, in whole or in part, any fees or related costs for their recruitment.

The study reviewed 99 policies, finding that:

  • The majority prohibit fees for workers (63 policies); they cover both national and cross-border recruitment (44 policies).
  • 36 policies regulate fees and related costs.
  • 27 countries have full or partial definitions of recruitment fees and related costs.
  • 66 countries have legal provisions to sanction violations of policies on fees and related costs.

Applying universal standards for fair recruitment

International Labour Standards, the ILO General Principles and the ILO definition of recruitment fees and related costs have been applied in a variety of contexts to improve regulation on recruitment.

Viet Nam

The 2020 revision of the Law on Contract-Based Vietnamese Overseas Workers improved legislative protections for migrant workers. Provisions include:

  • A move towards a “zero fee” model of recruitment, including by removing brokerage fees to be paid by migrant workers to recruitment agencies.
  • Ceilings for other recruitment fees and related costs (to be defined in secondary legislation in 2021).
  • Prohibition of deceitful advertising promoting illegal exit from Viet Nam, human trafficking, exploitation, forced labour or other illegal acts.
  • The ability for migrant workers to unilaterally liquidate contracts in situations of threats, sexual harassment, maltreatment or forced labour.
  • Progress towards the principle (in ILO Convention No. 88) that public employment services should be operated free of charge.
  • Definitions of discrimination and forced labour.


Drawing on the experience of negotiating an agreement with Jordan, Nepal is now ensuring that its bilateral agreements (e.g. with Malaysia, Mauritius and the United Arab Emirates) take a rights-based approach. Provisions for workers include: 

  • Freedom of movement (no withholding of passports) and to change employers (conditional).
  • Costs relating to recruitment of workers are borne by employers.
  • Workers are protected against unfair practices, harassment, abuse, forced labour and exploitation.
  • Access to a dispute resolution mechanism, to health care benefits and to adequate food and housing.
  • Standard employment contracts to promote transparency.
  • Equality of treatment.


The 2018 revision of the Royal Ordinance Concerning Management of Employment of Migrant Workers includes a number of provisions in line with International Labour Standards and fair recruitment practices: 

  • Zero recruitment fees charged to migrant workers (drawing on the ILO Private Employment Agencies’ Convention (No. 181)). However, the definition of “recruitment fees” still needs to be defined in secondary legislation.
  • No prison sentences imposed on irregular migrant workers.
  • Written contracts are to be provided in the language of migrant workers.
  • Increased flexibility for migrant workers to change employers.
  • No confiscation of migrants’ identification documents. 
  • Removal of housing zones that restrict migrants’ freedom of movement.
  • Appointment of a tripartite committee to oversee migration policy.

Pillar 3: Promoting fair business practices

The ILO is working with governments, organizations and local businesses to promote fairer and safer recruitment practice by the private sector.


To address these challenges in Mexico, the ILO has partnered with AHIFORES (Alianza Hortofrutícola Internacional para el Fomento de la Responsabilidad Social) to develop tools and standards that help members adopt fair recruitment practices.

With support from ILO and Verité, AHIFORES has created a Fair Recruitment Toolkit for the agricultural sector to help members obtain AHIFORES certification of their fair recruitment practices. AHIFORES has been ensuring that the sector is able to maintain fair recruitment practices during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ILO is also working with the CIERTO agency (focused on fair recruitment of agricultural workers) to develop a practical guide for recruiting essential agricultural workers during the COVID-19 crisis.


Hospitality is a significant industry in Qatar. The ILO, the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs of Qatar, and the Institute for Human Rights and Business have created a guidance tool to support efforts by the country’s hotels to promote labour rights and fair recruitment in their business practices. This includes:

  • Due diligence of service providers and placement agencies.
  • Due diligence of recruitment practices.
  • Improving workplace relations between migrant workers and companies.

Pillar 4: Empowering and protecting workers

The ILO has worked globally to help develop new resources and increase the capacity of partners to improve their outreach in order to empower and protect workers’ rights.

Here are some examples of how the Fair Recruitment Initiative is being realized at the local level.

Fair recruitment is possible!

The ILO’s work has shown that fair recruitment is achievable when all actors come together to play their part.

But the work continues. The next stage of the Fair Recruitment Initiative (Phase II, 2021–25) aims to ensure that recruitment practices nationally and across borders are grounded in labour standards, are developed through social dialogue, and ensure gender equality. At the same time, certain goals remain constant, namely to see that recruitment practices:

  • Are transparent, and effectively regulated, monitored and enforced
  • Protect all workers’ rights, including fundamental principles and rights at work, and prevent human trafficking and forced labour
  • Efficiently inform and respond to employment policies and labour market needs

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