Frequently Asked Questions

What is IRIS?

IRIS: Ethical Recruitment is IOM’s flagship initiative to promote ethical recruitment globally. It is a multi-stakeholder initiative that supports governments, civil society, the private sector and particularly recruiters to establish ethical recruitment as the norm in cross-border labour migration. The goal of IRIS is to make international recruitment fair for everyone involved: migrant workers, employers, recruiters and countries of origin and destination. This is achieved by:

  • Promoting respect for the rights of migrant workers;
  • Enhancing transparency and accountability in international recruitment;
  • Advancing the Employer Pays Principle; and
  • Strengthening public policies, regulations and enforcement mechanisms. 
What do we mean by ethical recruitment?

Cross-border recruitment of workers is a vital part of facilitating international labour mobility. When recruitment is done in a fair and transparent way, it contributes to safe and orderly labour migration which benefits countries of origin and destination, employers, recruiters, and migrants.

In simple terms, ethical recruitment means hiring workers lawfully and in a fair and transparent manner that respects and protects their dignity and human rights.

Definitions of “ethical”, “fair” or “responsible” recruitment are rooted in existing international standards and conventions. In particular, the ILO’s C181-Private Employment Agencies Convention, 1997 establishes clear protections for jobseekers, notably respect for the fundamental principles and rights at work and prohibition of fee charging to jobseekers. This convention has been further elaborated in ILO’s General Principles and Operational Guidelines for Fair Recruitment, promoting transparency and fairness for the benefit of both workers and employers. Some key principles of ethical recruitment are:

  • Every worker should enjoy freedom of movement
  • No worker should pay for their job
  • No worker should be indebted or coerced to work

These principles are reflected in commitments of business organisations such as: The Leadership Group for Responsible Recruitment, Responsible Business Alliance, Consumer Goods Forum, International Tourism Partnership, Fair Labour Association and American Apparel and Footwear Association, Building Responsibly.

Why is ethical recruitment important?

The exploitation of migrant workers often begins at the recruitment stage when workers are charged fees or misled about the job on offer. Unethical recruitment is a wide-spread phenomenon found across economic sectors and is commonly associated with the recruitment of workers in lower skills categories where prevailing practices are based on a ‘worker pays’ business model. 

Under this arrangement, migrant workers pay the fees and costs related to recruitment and migration, often leaving them heavily indebted and highly vulnerable to exploitation. When combined with other forms of abuse such as false promises about the terms and conditions of employment, limitations on freedom of movement, coercion or lack of access to remedy, this can lead to exploitation and conditions of forced labour.

To address these issues IOM decided, together with a multi-stakeholder coalition of like-minded partners, to develop IRIS and work together with governments, civil society and the private sector to establish ethical recruitment practices as the norm in cross-border labour migration. 

What does IRIS aim to achieve?

IRIS aims to bring transformative change to the international recruitment industry and thereby help to prevent and mitigate negative consequences of unethical recruitment. By recognizing and supporting a range of stakeholders committed to ethical recruitment principles, IRIS seeks to:

  • Identify and support ethical labour recruiters and level the playing field for them
  • Present migrant workers, employers, governments and society with a  roster of  labour recruiters committed to ethical recruitment
  • Capacitate and certify private recruitment agencies that meet all the requirements of the IRIS Standard 
  • Support and improve existing government regulation on international recruitment by incentivizing compliance and good practice 
  • Promote the ‘Employer Pays Principle’ and ethical recruitment business model among brands and employers and change the current ‘worker pays’ business model of international recruitment
What is the Employer Pays Principle, and will it cost more?

The Employer Pays Principle is considered international best practice, and is endorsed and promoted by the Leadership Group for Responsible Recruitment  as well as an increasing number of business associations and governments.  As the name suggests, under this model the worker does not pay any fees or related costs for their recruitment and deployment – rather those costs are covered by the employer (e.g. the receiving company).

Although this model may initially appear to be a more expensive option for companies practice shows this is not the case, and it typically proves to be more cost efficient in the long-term. For example, if an unethical recruitment agency provides a worker that is later found to have paid recruitment fees or other related costs, this means there will be additional costs for the company to investigate the situation with possible disruptions to production, then remediate the worker, and possibly pay additional fines if there has been any legal non-compliance. If many cases are discovered, this could easily amount to tens of thousands of dollars for the company.

What are recruitment fees and related costs?

Recruitment fees and related costs are defined by ILO as: “any fees or costs incurred in the recruitment process in order for workers to secure employment or placement, regardless of the manner, timing or location of their imposition or collection”. 

This includes costs relating to international travel (ie passport, visa, return flights etc), medical and training costs, and any administrative or overhead fees associated with job placement. Recruitment fees include costs that are paid in money or property, deductions from wages or benefits, kickbacks or bribes, and in-kind payments such as free labour.

IRIS follows the ILO’s definition of recruitment fees and related costs, which is also reflected in commitments by the Leadership Group for Responsible Recruitment, the Responsible Business Alliance Code of Conduct, and the US Federal Acquisition Regulation. 

How will IRIS achieve its goals? 

IRIS is referred to under Objective 6 of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. Priorities for achieving its goals include: 

Awareness raising and capacity building for relevant stakeholders

  • Low levels of awareness and commitment to ethical recruitment are prevalent across many economies and jurisdictions, and to address this IRIS provides tailored programs for recruitment agencies, employers, policymakers and civil society. Interventions are solutions-oriented, adapted to local needs and thematic priorities, and aimed at enhancing understanding, action and impact.

Migrant worker voice and empowerment

  • Unique vulnerabilities of migrant workers in global supply chains has inspired the concept of migrant voice, capturing a range of migrant-centred activities.
  • For IRIS, this includes community and grassroots engagement, direct outreach and support through Migrant Resource Centres (MRCs) and partnerships with civil society, migrants’ rights groups, the labour movement and non-profit organizations. 
  • With comprehensive training programs for migrants and support for civil society monitoring of international recruitment practices with operational grievance mechanisms connecting CSOs in countries of origin and destination, IRIS promotes the development of an ethical recruitment “safety net”. 

Regulation of international recruitment

  • Vulnerabilities experienced by migrant workers are often exacerbated by weaknesses in government regulation and enforcement. Inconsistencies across jurisdictions, coupled with uneven enforcement capacity, can lead to gaps in migrant protection.
  • Through IRIS and a whole-of-government approach to ethical recruitment, IOM support Member States to address this, including with support and capacity building in policy dialogue at various levels, and assistance with development of new labour migration and recruitment regulations, bilateral arrangements and national action plans. 


  • IOM operates a voluntary certification system for international recruitment agencies. IRIS Certification was created by IOM with a coalition of partners from government, the labour movement, business and human rights organizations, international organizations and the private sector.
  • Certification is based on a multi-stakeholder standard that defines ethical recruitment and uses a robust system of checks and balances to ensure that participating recruiters adhere to the IRIS Standard and treat jobseekers and migrant workers fairly. For more information on certification, follow this link.

Stakeholder partnerships and dialogue

  • IRIS has adopted a partnership approach characterized by close cooperation with stakeholders that include government, civil society, industry associations and multi-stakeholder initiatives.
  • These partnerships aim to establish effective frameworks for ethical recruitment and to generate, match and sustain supply and demand for ethical recruitment services.
How does ethical recruitment link to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? 

If done right, ethical recruitment will directly support SDG 8 – Decent Work and economic growth, and more specifically:

  • Goal 8.7, Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labor, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labor, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labor in all its forms. 
  • 8.8: Protect labor rights and promote safe and secure working environments for all workers, including migrant workers, in particular women migrants, and those in precarious employment

Additionally, SDG 10 – Reduced inequalities, and specifically:

  • 10.7: Facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies

And finally, SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals, specifically:

  • 17.17: Encourage and promote effective public, public-private and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships
What is the IRIS Standard?

The IRIS Standard explains what ethical recruitment means in practice, and what labour recruiters need to demonstrate to become IRIS certified. 

The standard consists of seven core principles (as listed below) for ethical recruitment. There are two overarching principles – A and B, and five more specific principles. Each principle is supported by one or more criteria, providing further guidance on the key components and provisions. Each criterion is broken down into a set of indicators that needs to be met to be IRIS compliant. The following are the seven IRIS Principles:

A  Respect for Laws, Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work 
B. Respect for Ethical and Professional Conduct

  1. Prohibition of Recruitment Fees to Jobseekers
  2. Respect for Freedom of Movement
  3. Respect for Transparency of Terms and Conditions of Employment
  4. Respect for Confidentiality and Data Protection
  5. Respect for Access to Remedy

The IRIS Standard has been developed through multi-stakeholder consultations and is based on international human rights instruments, ILO Conventions and guidelines, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, as well as best practice from the recruitment industry. For more information on the IRIS Standard, please follow this link.

Who is eligible for IRIS Certification? 

IRIS Certification is only available to private recruitment agencies that send or receive workers from overseas. As such, certification is not available to public recruitment agencies, employers or brands. 

For a recruiter to become IRIS certified they will need to demonstrate that they are committed to the IRIS Principles – and that their management systems meet all the technical requirements of the IRIS Standard. 

How does IRIS Certification work?

IRIS Certification is voluntary. Recruiters who demonstrate willingness to adopt ethical recruitment practices will be encouraged to enrol in the IRIS Capacity Building Programme upon completion of which they can apply for IRIS Certification. While IOM supports recruiters throughout the Capacity Building Programme, the IRIS Certification process is done independently from IOM.

Certification audits are completed by third-party auditors that are approved by the IRIS Scheme Manager (SAAS). 
Following the audit and certification process, recruiters will be continuously monitored to ensure compliance with the IRIS Standard. The compliance monitoring  is conducted through on-going facilitation worker-employer-recruiter engagement and information exchange within IRIS Monitoring and Compliance Mechanism and through periodical mandatory re-certification audits by third-party auditors. 

The IRIS Certification model is based on existing social compliance certifications.

What is the IRIS Capacity Building Programme (CBP) for Labour Recruiters?

The IRIS CBP for Labour Recruiters is IOM’s dedicated capacity building programme for international labour recruiters that are pursuing IRIS Certification. The initial pilot testing revealed that even more advanced and committed recruiters need further support to develop the necessary policies, processes  and systems  compliant with the IRIS Standard, before they apply for IRIS Certification.

The CBP is divided into the following four steps: 

  • Entry Level: Awareness Building 
  • Level 1: Gap Analysis 
  • Level 2: System Design, Building and Implementation 
  • Level 3: System Validation 

The CBP takes a step-wise approach and is designed to give recruiters a recognition as they advance through CBP levels and tiers, while putting in place a management system that is aligned with the requirements of the IRIS Standard. 

How and where is IRIS pilot tested and implemented?

Currently, IRIS is piloted in the Philippines to Canada migration corridor, with a number of recruiters engaged in both the CoO and the CoD. IRIS will only be pilot tested in jurisdictions with an existing regulatory framework governing labour recruiters. 

IOM is also working on a regular basis with a number of recruiters and other stakeholders in various migration corridors globally, with the aim of opening new ethical recruitment corridors as demand for ethical recruitment services increases.

What are the benefits of IRIS: Ethical Recruitment programme for different stakeholders?

For migrant workers: 

  • Improved transparency of recruitment and deployment processes 
  • Eliminated risks of exploitation during recruitment 
  • Improved access to remedy 

For labour recruiters:    

  • Recognized businesses that comply with ethical recruitment principles 
  • Improved management systems and recruitment processes through capacity building 
  • Leveled playing field to gain market advantage 
  • Fostered industry-wide adoption of ethical recruitment principles 
  • Access to employer clients committed to ethical recruitment

For employers: 

  • Identified labour recruiters committed to ethical recruitment 
  • Enhanced due diligence in the procurement of recruitment services
  • Demonstrated efforts to eliminate modern slavery, forced labour and exploitation of migrant workers

For governments: 

  • Reduced recruitment related exploitation, forced labour and human trafficking 
  • Clear and transparent rules for recruitment through international labour mobility corridors
  • Strengthened enforcement by incentivizing business models that comply with international standards 
  • Enhanced international policy coherence in the recruitment field 
How can the private sector support IRIS?
  • Promote ethical recruitment principles and practices throughout their supply chains
  • Integrate ethical recruitment principles in their policies and supplier Codes of Conduct 
  • Adopt the “Employer Pays Principle” to ensure that the cost of recruitment is not borne by migrant workers 
  • Pilot test IRIS in parts of their supply chain 
  • Share best practices and lessons learned from social audits  
  • Opt for IRIS-compliant labour recruiters, create further demand for ethical recruitment services and IRIS Certification
How can governments support IRIS?
  • Improve the enforcement of existing recruitment regulation, and develop new policy and regulations that are consistent with international standards for ethical recruitment
  • Encourage private recruitment agencies to enroll on IRIS programme by strengthening regulation and/or establishing labour mobility corridors consistent with provisions of the IRIS Standard
  • Encourage private sector companies to adopt the ‘Employer Pays Principle’ to ensure that migrant workers are not paying the costs of recruitment 
  • Reform public procurement guidelines to include provisions of ethical recruitment in their own operations 
How can civil society organizations support IRIS?

Civil society organizations and trade unions can support the development of IRIS by ensuring that the voices of migrant workers inform IRIS’s compliance oversight mechanism. 

Through partnerships with migrants’ rights groups, the labour movement and other non-profit organizations as well as Migrant Resource Centres (MRC), IOM wants to leverage the impact of civil society to build an ethical recruitment cross-border safety net. Direct outreach and support rendered by civil society will empower migrant workers and their advocates and promote a holistic safe migration experience for migrants in corridors where IRIS is active. 

What is the IRIS Compliance Oversight Mechanism (COM)?

Through engagement and capacity-building with IRIS Compliance Oversight Mechanism (COM) Focal Point Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in countries of origin and destination, who typically have a unique position of trust for migrants and are natural collection points for migrant/worker complaints, IOM is leveraging the power of civil society to support migrant workers throughout the migration process and provide a channel for migrant voice that will inform the maintenance of the IRIS Standard in multiple locations globally. 

As such, the IRIS COM bolsters an engagement and dialogue platform through which recruiters, workers and employers can communicate and address issues through facilitation of civil society actors. In this way, the COM contributes to and complements the IRIS Capacity Building and Certification programmes providing additional independent input to IRIS Certification own system of checks and balances and helps  to ensure that the IRIS Standard is being maintained by certified labour recruiters. 

What is the role of IOM in IRIS?

IOM is responsible for the overall implementation of the IRIS. Oversight and technical expertise is provided by the IRIS Secretariat in Geneva, with local application through a diverse and dedicated IRIS Team represented in IOM Country Offices in several regions globally. 

Implementation broadly encompasses the following:

  • Advocacy and Awareness Building on Ethical Recruitment
  • Responsibility for the IRIS Standard
  • Policy and other technical support
  • Rolling-out of the Capacity Building Programme in multiple locations globally
  • Tools and methodologies to support recruiters, employers, governments and civil society to implement ethical recruitment practices
  • Advocating for ethical recruitment and the Employer Pays Principle in industry forums, migration networks and in governmental consultations. 
What is the business case for ethical recruitment? 

The World Employment Confederation (WEC) argues that ethical recruitment:

  • Creates new business opportunities
  • Protects the brand and reputation of the client
  • Is more cost effective over time
  • Increases competitiveness 
  • Helps to comply with the law and avoid fines and other sanctions
  • Is also “the right thing to do” because it respects and protects the dignity and rights of jobseekers and workers
How to contact IRIS?

IRIS secretariat is based at IOM Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland and can be reached through:  

  • email: 
  • website:  
  • IRIS Twitter account: @IRIS_Programme