Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


New code tells firms how to treat migrant workers

January 2009

British companies have been offered a voluntary code of practice on employing migrant workers. The eight-page document comes from Business in the Community, which wants all employers of migrant workers to sign up.

The code tells companies that, as well as ensuring that migrant workers are treated fairly at work, they should play an ‘active role’ in helping them settle and integrate into their host community.

Under the code, businesses should, for instance, aid newly arrived workers to register with dentists and doctors, provide help with the issuing of National Insurance numbers, and work with local banks so that migrants can set up accounts.

In addition, they could show workers how to access the internet and create e-mail addresses so as to maintain better contact with their families ‘and reduce feelings of isolation’.

More widely, the code says businesses should establish ‘liaison arrangements’ with local authorities and community representatives to discuss migrant workers and their needs – and should consider diversity awareness training for existing staff.

Migrant workers take a range of jobs in the UK but most are in low-skill, low-pay and seasonal jobs, especially in agriculture. Statistics released by the government’s Labour Force survey in early 2008 showed that the number of foreign workers entering the UK had reached two million for the first time.

Christine Larson, Bitc’s rural development director, said the code recognized the increased use of immigrant labour as well as concerns about their treatment.  

The document was produced by a 23-strong Bitc migrant worker integration group, which included representatives from organizations such as Aramark, Asda, the British Retail Consortium, Foyle Food Group, John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Northern Foods, J. Sainsbury and Tesco.

The group was formed after a 2006 Bitc visit organized by Northern Foods, during which business leaders were taken to see the impact of migrant workers in rural areas around Boston, Lincolnshire.

Employment of migrant workers has become an increasingly important corporate responsibility issue throughout the world as the global labour pool has become more mobile. Last year a two-year project was set up by US-based Business for Social Responsibility to consider how multinationals can limit the exploitation of migrant workers in their supply chains (EP10, issue 4, p6).

BSR estimates there are now 190 million economic migrants worldwide.

Other code stipulations:
Employers should:
 establish ‘clear and ethical’ guidelines to which recruitment agencies, operating on their behalf, can adhere
 ensure that in recruiting from another country they do not create a shortage of local skills – for example, in nursing
 support migrant workers in finding suitable housing and not require them to stay in homes they provide
 afford migrant workers the same learning and development opportunities as other staff

Business in the Community | UK & NI Ireland | Codes of conduct

Further Information

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