What is the International Recruitment Integrity System (IRIS)?
IRIS is a social compliance scheme that is designed to promote ethical international labour recruitment. It has been created by IOM and a coalition of like-minded partners. In practical terms, IRIS is about identifying and supporting ethical labour recruiters. It does this by:
- Defining and setting a benchmark for ethical recruitment – ‘the IRIS Standard’,
- Establishing a voluntary certification process for international labour recruiters, which includes creating a list of ‘certified ethical labour recruiters’ to help employers and workers make more informed decisions about recruitment, and
- Ensuring that the IRIS Standard is being maintained by certified recruiters through a monitoring and compliance mechanism.
The goal of IRIS is to transform the international recruitment industry to make it fair for workers, recruiters and employers. It does this by promoting the employer pays principle, promoting greater transparency within international recruitment, and promoting the rights of migrant workers. IRIS will serve as a due diligence tool for businesses, governments and workers.
IRIS complements IOM’s broader efforts to promote ethical recruitment and safe and legal labour migration, as well as combat forced labour and modern day slavery. IRIS is closely linked to IOM’s Corporate Responsibility in Eliminating Slavery and Trafficking (CREST) framework. In particular, the tools developed by IRIS will be used to support capacity building efforts, such as training for recruiters, suppliers and employers, and labour supply chain mapping.
Why did you develop IRIS?
The exploitation of migrant workers often begins at the recruitment stage when workers are charged predatory fees or misled about the job on offer. According to the latest global estimates of modern slavery, around 25 million people are victims of forced labour globally – with about half of all victims in debt-bondage.
When it comes to combatting modern slavery, many interventions focus on the employment stage – ie on how workers are treated in the factory or farm setting. While these interventions are important, they often come too late when it comes to tackling unethical recruitment and its consequences. Over the years, several companies have approached IOM asking for support in identifying ‘ethical’ labour recruiters – especially in countries of origin. However, it has been difficult to respond to these requests given the lack of a standard definition of ethical recruitment, as well as inconsistencies and gaps in how international recruitment is regulated.
It is for these reasons that IOM and a coalition of likeminded stakeholders decided to develop the IRIS initiative in 2014. IRIS is funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), as well as the Governments of Australia, Canada, and Sweden, and through private sector donations.
Who are your key partners?
Since its inception, IOM works with a variety of stakeholders to create demand for ethical recruitment and IRIS. These include the Leadership Group for Responsible Recruitment, the Consumer Goods Forum, and other industry associations.
Similarly, IOM works closely with stakeholders who have similar initiatives to ensure policy coherence and scheme complementarity. These include Social Accountability International and Social Accountability Accreditation Services, Clearview, the Business Social Compliance Initiative, ISEAL and the Responsible Business Alliance (formerly the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition).
Within the UN system, IOM and ILO are working together to promote ethical recruitment. In particular, the ILO has established the policy framework for ethical recruitment through its Fair Recruitment Initiative and General principles and operational guidelines for fair recruitment, while IOM is working on the more operational aspects of ethical recruitment, through the IRIS and CREST initiatives.
IOM is also working with a team of certification specialists and social compliance professionals on the more technical aspects of IRIS – such as building the certification system and IRIS training programs. These include Social Accountability Accreditation Services (SAAS) and the British Standards Institution (BSI).
What is ethical recruitment?
To put it simply, ethical recruitment means hiring workers lawfully, and in a fair and transparent manner that respects their dignity and human rights.
The IRIS Standard explains what ethical recruitment means in practice, and what labour recruiters need to demonstrate to become IRIS certified. The IRIS Standard consists of seven principles, as well as specific criteria and indicators for ethical recruitment. The IRIS principles are:
- Respect for Laws, Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work
- Respect for Ethical and Professional Conduct
- Prohibition of Recruitment Fees to Jobseekers
- Respect for Freedom of Movement
- Respect for Transparency of Terms and Conditions of Employment
- Respect for Confidentiality and Data Protection
- Respect for Access to Remedy
The IRIS Standard was developed in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders. It is based on existing international human rights instruments, ILO’s General principles and operational guidelines for fair recruitment, ILO Conventions and standards, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, as well as related codes of conducts and best practice from the recruitment industry.
What are recruitment fees?
Recruitment fees refer to all fees and costs associated with a migrant worker taking up employment overseas – including during the pre-departure, employment and return stage. 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.
What is the employer pays principle and will it cost more?
The employer pays principle is considered best practice, and is endorsed and promoted by the Leadership Group for Responsible Recruitment. As the name suggests, under this model the worker does not pay any fees for their recruitment and deployment – rather these costs are by covered by the employer (company).
While this model may initially appear to be a more expensive option for companies, it needs to be considered within the context of risk management and can prove to be more cost efficient in the long-term. For example, if an unethical recruitment agency provides a worker that is not suitable for the company, then there will be additional costs for the company in repatriating the worker, recruiting a replacement worker, and possibly even fines if there has been any legal non-compliance.
How will IRIS certification work?
As IRIS certification is voluntary, recruiters who demonstrate good practice will be encouraged to become IRIS certified so that they can be included in a publicly available list of ‘certified ethical labour recruiters.’ To become a ‘certified ethical labour recruiter,’ applicants will need to demonstrate that their recruitment management system complies with the IRIS Standard.
As a first step, interested recruiters will be able to apply for IRIS certification through an online portal (to be developed). The recruiter will then be asked to complete a self-assessment questionnaire to determine if they are ready and want to go through the whole assessment process. The assessment will be conducted using IRIS tools – including the IRIS Standard, which provides very specific criteria and indicators to verify compliance with the IRIS Principles. The assessment will be conducted by IRIS approved third-party auditors, who have been trained by IRIS.
Following the self-assessment and certification process, recruiters will be monitored to ensure ongoing compliance with the IRIS Standard. The compliance monitoring will be both complaint-driven and through periodical mandatory re-certification assessments. The oversight of the assessment and certification process will be carried out by a third party, who will be known as the ‘IRIS Certification Scheme Manager.’
The IRIS certification model is based on existing social compliance certification systems. You can read more here.
How is IRIS being piloted?
Testing the IRIS Standard
The IRIS Standard was pilot tested to ensure its fit for purpose in different geographical, jurisdictional and sectoral contexts. This included testing the Standard against the needs of recruiters and employers. This occurred as part of broader labour supply chain mapping projects with companies that were interested in learning more about how workers are recruited within their supply chain.
Testing the IRIS Certification System
In partnership with Social Accountability Accreditation Services, IOM has been testing the feasibility and applicability of all components of the certification system. This has been taking place in the Philippines and Nepal in 2018, with further testing planned in other locations in 2019.
Roll out of IRIS Certification System
Following the launch of IRIS certification in December 2018, IRIS will be rolled out gradually through pilot projects in selected countries. This includes in the Philippines and the two Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, where IRIS has recently launched its first government to government pilot project. The first stage of the IRIS roll-out will focus on assisting committed recruiters with building their capacity to meet the requirements of the IRIS Standard. This will be followed by an IRIS assessment with the aim of certification.
During the roll out, IRIS will collaborate with similar initiatives promoting ethical recruitment such as ILO’s Fair Recruitment Initiatives, Responsible Labour Initiative of RBA, and the Leadership Group for Responsible Recruitment.