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Recruitment Fees and Debts for Migrant Workers: Precursor to Servitude

Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Washington, DC
June 5, 2006

Trafficking in persons is modern-day slavery, involving victims who are forced, defrauded or coerced into labor or sexual exploitation. Annually, about 800,000 people—mostly women and children—are trafficked across national borders. This number does not count the millions of people trafficked within their own countries.

Many of the foreign contract workers found in conditions of involuntary servitude in labor "demand" countries are required to pay substantial fees before they are accepted for work. These fees are paid to either the labor recruiter in the source country or the labor company in the demand country or it is shared by both. The payments demanded of foreign workers are often in the range of $4,000-$11,000 and are described as a “job placement fee” or “employment fee.” 

These fees are usually illegal under source country laws and are banned by international covenant. There is no rational basis for requiring low-skilled workers to pay fees; recruitment agencies in source countries and labor agencies in demand countries are paid commissions by employers who have demanded the services of low-skilled foreign workers. By seeking to extract payments from workers themselves, labor companies are “double-dipping”—and imposing a heavy debt burden that contributes to bonded labor or involuntary servitude. Research on involuntary servitude among migrant contract workers finds a strong link between forced labor conditions and the heavy fees or debt imposed on workers by labor recruitment agencies in the source country.

Private employment agencies should not charge, directly or indirectly, any fees or costs to workers. This is a principle that is gaining increased acceptance and attention around the world, as some labor source countries criminalize the imposition of unreasonable costs on workers. 

It is the responsibility of labor source country governments to adequately regulate labor recruitment agencies to ensure that laborers going abroad for contract work are not saddled with inappropriate costs that too often induce debt bondage later. Labor recruitment firms that engage in this highly exploitative practice should be punished criminally. Administrative sanctions such as fines and business closures are not sufficient to deter this crime. It is the responsibility of the receiving or “demand” country governments to proactively screen workers to ensure they are not victimized by debt bondage or forced labor; when identified, criminal investigations leading to potential prosecutions should be the response.

Excerpt from Trafficking in Persons Report 2006.


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