The challenge: How can we recruit migrant labour responsibly?

When migrant workers in global supply chains are recruited irresponsibly, they become highly vulnerable to precarious terms of employment and poor working conditions. 

These include debt bondage and unsafe living arrangements, creating longer-term implications on the stability of global value chains of which many of us rely on.

To tackle this problem, a number of related services, tools and solutions for responsible recruitment have been developed and introduced. 

However, despite the growing number of such initiatives, there is a collective recognition that the conditions that lead to irresponsible recruitment remain entrenched. 

Current interventions have not yet disrupted the status quo sufficiently, to move us from deep set norms, incentive structures and behaviours that keep unethical recruitment practice firmly in place.

Barriers to change

As part of a scoping study conducted by Forum for the Future in 2022 on modern slavery in Southeast Asia, we found three major challenges in achieving responsible recruitment that have received less attention to date:

  1. Current services and tools as a set are leading to shallow improvements, rather than systemic eradication of irresponsible recruitment practices.
  2. Employers (who account for a significant number of migrant employment) and recruitment agents need to be involved as ‘makers’ of the solutions, but are usually designated as ‘takers’.
  3. Current services and tools designed to facilitate responsible recruitment in value chains do not sufficiently account for future environmental and social disruptions to labour and migration that are anticipated to unfold over the next decade. While aware of these shifting landscapes, employers, recruiters and workers face challenges in developing the adaptive capacity to ensure and maintain responsible recruitment outcomes. 

What does Shaping the Future of Responsible Recruitment aim to achieve?

Shaping the Future of Responsible Recruitment is a 12-month programme led by Forum for the Future that aims to contribute to a systemic eradication of unethical recruitment practices. We are focusing this inquiry in Malaysia, with a view to deepen our inquiry in other countries in Southeast Asia.

The programme brings together stakeholders—covering the entire recruitment process—through a collaborative and participatory action-inquiry process. Participants will be involved in a collective diagnosis of the barriers faced in the sector, using futures thinking to explore approaches and solutions that achieve systemic impact, and prototyping concepts for systemic intervention.

We hope to achieve the following outcomes:
  • An understanding of how responsible recruitment interventions and intervention strategies targeted at Malaysia can be impactful in systemic, resilient and future-fit ways.
  • New ways of working and collaborations between those who design and implement responsible recruitment solutions, manufacturers, and recruitment agents with an ambition to systemically eradicate unethical recruitment in Malaysia.
  • Tangible prototypes for high-change impact interventions that will contribute towards deepening the transformative potential of responsible recruitment services and tools to systemically eradicate unethical recruitment practices in Malaysia.

Who’s involved

The programme brings together stakeholders who are involved in the migrant worker recruitment process in Malaysia. This includes actors who design and implement responsible recruitment services, tools and solutions, employers, recruitment agents (from both Malaysia and migrant workers’ home country), and worker representative groups.

Our role

Forum for the Future acts as a convener, bringing together stakeholders from across the recruitment process, including stakeholders who might not have had the opportunity to engage and hear from one another. 

We identify underlying challenges and barriers to change collectively, facilitating difficult conversations around them that are often not surfaced in group settings.

We then help instigate dialogue to guide the group towards prototyping practical solutions and new ways of working in the responsible recruitment space.


Read our blog exploring where accountability for ethical and responsible practices lie in the migrant worker recruitment system.

Get involved

To find out more about how you can get involved in the project, please get in touch with LiLin Loh at [email protected]

Contact LiLin