The Capacity-Building Programme for Labour Recruiters

2 years 10 months ago

Recruiters are essential interlocutors between prospective migrant workers and employers. They currently, and will likely continue to, play a central role in facilitating labour migration between countries of origin and destination. Therefore, close engagement with labour recruiters is at the heart of what IRIS does to ensure that cross-border labour migration is fair for everyone; for employers, for recruiters, for governments, and of course most importantly – for migrant workers themselves.

Transforming the business model of international recruitment requires commitment, partnerships and collective action, focus, and perhaps most importantly – patience. True commitment requires the willingness to implement targeted change and progress towards creating ethical policies, sustainable practices and management systems that align with the IRIS Standard.

To sustain recruiters hard work and progress and successfully achieve ethical recruitment globally, it is necessary to create an enabling environment where employers (the demand side) are equally committed to ethical recruitment and the Employer Pays Principle. It is also essential for policymakers to align regulatory frameworks for labour migration with internationally recognized standards for fair and ethical recruitment. These actions will build an enabling environment that is instrumental to support recruiters with the transformation of their business practices and assisting them across the certification finish line.

On a more technical level, the IRIS Labour Recruiter Capacity-Building Programme (LR CBP) is an end-to-end process that systematically supports recruiters to bring their recruitment practice to full conformance with the principles of the IRIS Standard. This is a programme built on true commitment from recruiters themselves which is coupled with direct engagement and individual support by a team of dedicated IOM capacity builders operating in several IOM country offices and supported by the IRIS Secretariat. IRIS takes a structured approach that responds to the individual needs and capacity of recruiters as they progress through the following distinct levels of the IRIS LR CBP:

IRIS Capacity Building Programme Flow


To date, the IRIS global team consisting of IOM colleagues in Asia-Pacific, Africa, Europe, the GCC and Central and North America has trained more than 800 labour recruiters, building their awareness and understanding of labour exploitation in international migration contexts, the Employer Pays Principle and what constitutes ethical recruitment. While levels of commitment and interest in carrying out ethical recruitment vary, many recruiters share the belief that migrant workers should not be charged any recruitment fees or related costs or have their passports taken away as collateral, two issues frequently discussed during training sessions. They also share that the prevailing business model in international cross-border recruitment is not yet conducive enough to support the quick transformation of the industry at scale, making it hard for them to act on their commitment. Nevertheless, within this group there is a steadily growing number of trailblazers engaged in the dedicated capacity-building programme, receiving support and taking action to improve their business practice and align with ethical recruitment principles as they progress through the programme.

In this group, those who have progressed to Level 2 have identified gaps in policies, processes, and operating procedures, and started to implement due diligence mechanisms to monitor the well-being of migrant workers throughout the labour migration journey. For some, this can be a considerable process of business transformation as they start from a baseline where such infrastructure is not yet in place, while others are progressing faster and already have large parts of their systems implemented. Some recruiters are now approaching Level 3 and over the next few months, the IRIS Secretariat will facilitate a series of third party “mock audits” to independently determine how well recruiters are progressing vis-à-vis the IRIS Standard requirements. After this exercise, it is expected that a selection of recruiters will be ready to apply for IRIS Certification in Autumn 2021.

What’s next?

Without a doubt, several challenges still lie ahead for the international recruitment business model to successfully transform and align with the international standards for fair and ethical recruitment.

Firstly, many businesses engaged in international labour recruitment, particularly in countries of origin, are smaller enterprises operating on thin margins. In practice, they may not have the necessary human, financial or other resources which could create challenges for them to commit full-time to a very comprehensive programme. This means it may take them longer to progress. To account for this, the capacity-building programme is flexible in terms of timelines for completion. Methodologies, tools and guidance are continuously being revised and adjusted to better assist recruiters in various situations.

Secondly, the recruitment sector itself is often characterized by varying degrees of informality and sometimes built around networks of informal actors providing services along the labour migration process. Without transparency and accountability provided through formal regulatory frameworks, it becomes more complex for recruiters to implement a functioning system of checks and balances, which IRIS Certification requires. Through the Global Policy Network (GPN) on recruitment and its thematic working groups, IRIS supports dialogue between policymakers and practitioners to identify best practices when it comes to licensing regimes, bilateral labour agreements and regulatory frameworks, which will support change in the long term.

Finally, the business environment in the sector has not been conducive enough to enact transformative change and a steep learning curve on ethical recruitment also exists for employers. While some important global commitments have been made in recent years (for example, to the Employer Pays Principle), progress with implementation on the ground has not completely caught up. Labour recruiters, like other businesses, react to market incentives – and if they do not see the business case, there will be less incentive for change. IRIS aims to address this through sectoral and corridor approaches and by providing guidance and tools to employers on how to strengthen action and synchronize their systems with the requirements of the IRIS Standard.

Looking forward, IRIS is committed to continuing its engagement with labour recruiters and all other relevant stakeholders to stimulate a more enabling environment for ethical recruitment and recognize recruiters as they progress towards IRIS Certification. True change to the current business model is possible. Stakeholders from across the spectrum are invested, but tangible and focused action and close collaboration among stakeholders is key for transforming the industry to ensure safe migration and decent work that respects the dignity and human rights of migrant workers.