There is no need to gasp, there is no need to frown, there is no need to point fingers. Because modern day slavery exist and is rampant in modern economies. There is no controversy, except irresponsibility.
I refer back to Dan Rivers’ report on CNN which is part of the modern day slavery series of program. This time, it was related to the electronics industry who had engaged workers from Cambodia to work in Malaysia through agencies and created opportunities for workers to be exploited. Many are responsible in the supply chain, as a professional in the recruitment industry, this is where I’ll focus.
Since the phrase outsourcing is coined, companies have seeked ways to reduce their cost by outsourcing part of their production to more cost effective partners. These partners who can be contract manufacturers in this case, then seek to reduce cost by hiring temporary or contract workers to maintain flexible cost management – hire more where required and keep workforce at minimum. There is no evil in this. The evil lies in the way workers are hired and accountabilities managed.
In countries where there are no minimum wage laws, abuse is even more rampant. Without the protection of the law, the labour market is determined by demand and supply. Where possible, employers will try to keep labour cost as low as possible and it is up to workers to accept or not. In these countries, the influx of less developed economies meant greater willingness to work at lower wages. But this also meant that employment agencies can misguide employees who are unaware of cost of living in another country to make the pay look attractive. They are then deceived into believing that their fees to agency can be easily paid off since they are promised a high pay in comparison to their own country. Since immigration requires administration and papers, these agencies also has an upper hand in controlling the administrative process and then hold the workers hostage by means of with holding passport or exit papers.
How can that be tolerated? Before we ask that question, we need to inspect another question, do we keep our eyes open to injustice or is it easier to ignore? Here, it is the sin of omission that allowed this to perpetuate. Before recruitment professionals point their fingers to the companies who hires blue collar contractors, let me identify the personage and there are quite a few white collar in this chain.
- the supply chain and procurement professionals – these are white collar executives who study price competitiveness and find the most cost effective supply. Sometimes, pressured by their company to justify their existence and to cut cost, they will seek cheapest price as oppose to most effective price.
- the human resources professionals – white collar executives tasked to set up labour contracts and advise supply chain and procurement professionals on recruitment agencies and labour sources. They can recommend responsible vendors or round up a major list and leave this to their colleagues to select. They can also advise the minimum cost and/or market cost of hire for their colleagues to benchmark cost. If the HR professionals can highlight a reasonable benchmark, red flags will be alerted to very low price competition.
- management of both outsourcing parties and outsourced companies. They have the responsibility to set examples and maintain no-tolerance to bad practices.
- the recruitment agencies of blue collar workers and the recruitment agencies of the above white collar workers.
Sales professionals in the recruitment sector is faced with fragmented competition. The price of recruitment services and contract labour in both recruitment firms for permanent workforce and contract workforce alike are often determined by competition, and indirectly by clients. I have no short of examples where clients pressed the recruitment agencies to low margins including low wages to keep both direct cost and indirect costs down. And it is more appalling when your competition agrees to these prices to “buy” the business. And sometimes, I had asked, how is that possible unless illegal. Sometimes, clients may even “suggests” ways to get around the law. It is up to the sales person decide if they want to walk away and be responsible or forget responsibilities and succum to pressures.
Let me return to recruitment. I have been a contract employee, a client and someone who does the recruitment. Most often, it is my business to clinch a deal that my colleagues can work with. I’ve seen work from different angles and I was an underage labourer too. I will say this, be brave and stand up to unfair practices. Because we are part of the supply chain. There is no point in saying competition does it and/or I may lose my job over this. Because if you do lose your job over this, you can fight and if you don’t, you win the respect of both clients and your employers.
Be responsible because you can. You don’t have to do much more than hold your ground. It is already enough.
Some practical steps:
- politely correct someone who uses the term “bodyshop” other than to refer to the company that sells toiletries.
- learn about labour law in your country and geographies you operate on, especially on minimum wage and benefits. You can advise on what is legal and fair practice.
- walk away from a client who “suggests” other companies who can do it cheaper that is not fair practice
- recommend the right people to key jobs such as supply chain and procurement, human resources. If the job profile suggests that the incumbent has to face tough situations and keep cost low at whatever costs, question the validity of such a profile.
- call out your competition who is operating irresponsibly
- manage your sub-vendors where applicable to ensure they also practice fair recruitment practices.
Recruitment is not social work but our work impacts the society, a person’s work life (over 30% of a person’s waking hours) and the people they work with.
Let’s fight back on agencies who give us a bad name. We are much bigger in numbers, I hope!