Human rights due diligence (HRDD): risks of modern slavery for displaced workers (Anti-Slavery International and La Strada International)

Anna Triponel

June 2, 2023
Our key takeaway: As of May 2022, more than 100 million people were forced to flee conflict, violence and human rights abuses. This number has more than doubled since 2010. Why? Not least because of the war in Ukraine which has intensified migration flows between conflict-affected areas, unsafe migration routes and destination countries. And why does the movement of displaced people affect companies? Displaced people are at greater risk of exploitation including forced labour. This increases the likelihood and severity of exploitation within companies’ operations and value chain which, under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), companies are required to prevent and mitigate using robust due diligence processes and to consider an effective remedy for those that have been harmed. All this is to say that companies have a responsibility to address human rights impacts across their value chain, especially in the context of conflict, and HRDD can provide a basis for action. 

Anti-Slavery International and La Strada International released Human rights due diligence: risks of modern slavery for displaced workers (May 2023):

  • Displaced people are at greater risk of modern slavery, including forced labour: The report highlights how people fleeing from conflict and violence are at greater risk of modern slavery, which includes human trafficking and forced labour, as well as debt bondage. This can be for many reasons, which includes “hardship and discrimination, deceptive and coercive recruitment practices, language barriers, weak social networks and a poor understanding of labour law in their destination countries” and gender. This is also likely to happen in conflict-affected areas, unsafe migration routes and destination countries. It should also be noted that labour rights abuses happen on a continuum, with forced labour at one end of the spectrum and decent work at the other end. It would be wise for companies to find out where workers in their operations and value chain sit on this continuum and move them towards decent work, where they can enjoy all their rights.
  • Heightened human rights due diligence in the context of conflict: The report states that companies are required to conduct heightened human rights due diligence (HRDD) within conflict-affected areas, in areas bordering conflict-affected areas and destination countries due to the increased risk of human rights abuses. Specifically the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights require companies to: 1) “Identify the negative effects of your business activities on conflict situations and human rights, whether these effects are direct or indirect, actual or potential”; 2) “Act on your findings: stop activities causing harm, work to prevent harm, avoid situations that could lead to harm and use your influence to reduce or prevent harm, whether the harm is directly or indirectly linked to your business activities”; 3) “Monitor whether these measures are effective”; and 4) “Communicate with stakeholders about what you are doing as a business to respect human rights.” In short, companies should consider the contexts where they operate in; whether such conditions increases the risk of modern slavery; and the level of HRDD they should conduct to mitigate identified impacts.
  • Recommendations for companies to prevent, mitigate and remedy exploitation, including forced labour: The report outlines several actions companies can take to address exploitation across their value chain, which includes: 1) “Define internal procedures for due diligence and supplier management”; 2) “Identify countries and regions in your value chains where displaced people are at risk of exploitation”; 3) “Consider the specific experiences of people with marginalised identities in relation to each area of risk and due diligence”; which includes gender; 4) “Explicitly prohibit recruitment fees and related costs” and “[p]rovide access to remedy in the event of poor recruitment practices”; 5) “Provide information on how to access support services and how to raise a complaint”; 6) “Provide workers with their contract in a language they understand before they start work”; 7) “Make sure undocumented workers are supported and protected”; 8) “Maintain open lines of communication with workers and conduct specific checks” on payment of wages and fees; 9) “Provide labour rights training”; 10) “Establish recognition agreements” to protect the right to freedom of association; 11) Ensure access to a meaningful grievance mechanism and effective remediation process; 12) “Provide training on your code of conduct” to all suppliers and sub-contractors; 13) “Partner with specialist local NGOs and stakeholders” to remediate the harm caused to people and workers.

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