Bangladesh is far from practising ethical recruitment, which requires a zero-cost migration policy and transparency in the entire migration cycle, and also ensures that migrants do not face exploitation, according to researchers.
They said Bangladeshi migrants pay the highest recruitment cost and get one of the lowest per capita wages due to unethical recruitment practices and low-level skills.
According to a 2015 World Bank report, the average recruitment cost in Kuwait for a migrant was $1,955. But for a Bangladeshi it was $3,131, which is about nine times their monthly wages.
For an Indian, the migration cost is about two and a half months’ salary and for a Sri Lankan about a month’s wage.
To go to Malaysia to work, Bangladeshis had to pay Tk 4 lakh during 2016-2018 whereas Nepali workers pay equivalent to Tk 50,000 or less.
Malaysia suspended its labour market for Bangladeshis in September last year over allegations of syndicates controlling the recruitments and costs being too high.
The high cost for Bangladeshi workers was also reported in United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, major labour markets for Bangladeshis.
The UAE also has restrictions for Bangladeshi workers since late 2012, reportedly for anomalies in recruitment process.
Illegal manpower brokers have been dominating the sector and there is no government mechanism to eliminate them or hold them accountable. They are the major reason for high recruitment cost, migration researchers said.
“Bangladesh has 1,300 registered private recruiting agencies but very few of those follow ethical recruitment practices as per the international standard,” said Ishita Shruti, senior programme officer, migration data analysis division at the International Organisation for Migration Bangladesh.
She said they have anecdotal evidence showing Bangladeshis pay a lot more money compared to those from the Philippines, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
Bangladeshis also take large loans to migrate, she said.
It is interesting to see how much of the remittance they send go towards repaying the loans, she told The Daily Star in an interview ahead of the International Migrants Day being observed today.
“When we talk about migration and development, we always talk about just the remittance, and we don’t talk about the cost,” Ishita said.
There are some 10 million Bangladeshis working abroad, and on average some six lakh Bangladeshis go abroad for jobs each year. The remittance they sent last year was $15.54 billion, up by more than $2 billion from the previous year.
Even though remittance is rising, there is no available data to ascertain if the per capita wage or remittance of Bangladeshis was increasing or decreasing.
There are frequent reports of fraudulence, labour exploitation, forced labour, and debt bondage.
Against this backdrop, the IOM took up the global initiative International Recruitment Integrity System (IRIS) in 2015 to ensure ethical recruitment, transparency and due diligence throughout the recruitment process. It is being piloted in Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Nepal.
Through the initiative, the IOM audits recruiting agencies and issues certificates if an agency asks for it after meeting IRIS standards.
“It’s a kind of certification where we are promoting the ‘employer pays model’. The cost should be borne by the employer,” said Pravina Gurung, the IOM Bangladesh head of migration & development.
For instance, she said, “If I am recruited by the IOM in some other country, I don’t need to pay for the migration cost, like visa cost, travel cost, and the fees.
“We are promoting this among the global brands. If they follow IRIS standards in recruitment, they will have better business. It’s true for the employers and recruiting agencies,” Gurung said.
If the agencies dupe the migrants, they would not have business in the future, she added.
The Philippines has already begun implementing the ethical recruitment model, with at least one recruiting agency managing job placement in Canada, Pravina said.
In Nepal, a good number of agencies are already following ethical recruitment practices. The IOM is likely to certify a Nepali agency next year, while two others are being assessed, she said.
In Bangladesh, two recruiting agencies showed interest in IRIS certification, Pravina said.
IOM Bangladesh Chief of Mission Giorgi Gigauri said the eco-friendly coffee shops across Europe can be an example. The shops that use organic coffee produced without child labour and maintains transparency in the business were doing well.
He said the IOM was working with the Bangladesh government with a two-pronged approach, one to eliminate migration cost and the other to train migrants.