Unions are uniquely positioned to promote worker justice and education quality. They have an important role to play in regulating international migration.

Amidst a clear and compelling body of evidence that recruitment abuses have been experienced by workers in every part of the world and every sector of the economy, many academics and advocates have begun to consider the most effective strategies for regulating international recruitment.

Alternative Approaches to the Governance of Transnational Labour Recruitment

Pittman (2013) outlines a set of strategy domains that provide a useful framework for consideration.


  • Immigration and labour laws
  • Codes
  • Public registries
  • Migratory resource centers
  • Reduction of transaction costs
  • Bilateral agreements and memoranda of understanding
  • Government to government recruitment
  • Public recruitment agencies
  • Pre-departure orientations

International Organizations

  • Soft law
  • Convening and technical assistance

Non-Governmental Organizations

  • Advocacy at international organizations
  • International adjudication
  • Legal services and Impact litigation
  • Name and shame
  • Domestic advocacy for legal reforms
  • Migrant education and organizing
  • New technologies


  • Membership
  • Advocacy for permanence

Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives

  • Third party certification
  • Education and outreach

After considering clarity, stringency, detection capacity, market incentives, enforcement consequences, and reach, Pittman concludes that a blended approach involving all actors and tactics is necessary to ensure meaningful protection. Unions have a central role to play in the effective regulation of recruitment agencies and practices.

Quo Vadis?

A 2013 report found that both workers and employers are dissatisfied with existing regulations that are bureaucratic and fail to prevent rampant rights violations. The study also noted “a progressive tendency towards the privatization of agents involved in the temporary labour migration systems, which leads to precarious hiring conditions for women and men migrant workers in the countries of origin.”(Pagaza & Bonnici). Instituto de Estudios y Divulgacion Sobre Migracion, A.C. (INEDIM) recommended numerous mechanisms to regulate private recruitment agencies, nearly all of which included a cross-border component:

  • Create recruiter registries with government agencies in both the country of origin and destination
  • Introduce joint liability of recruiters and employers so migrant workers have greater remedy options in the event of contract violations
  • Prohibit the charging of fees to migrant workers
  • Require governments in the country of origin and destination to validate employment contracts
  • Mandate that employers file a bond to serve as a guarantee for compensation in the event of harm to temporary migrant workers. 

“The American Dream Up for Sale: A Blueprint for Ending International Labor Recruitment Abuse”

These recommendations are consistent with another 2013 policy framework that catalogues unjust practices and exploitation of immigrant workers recruited to the U.S. in all sectors of the economy, and highlights the need for systemic reforms. Key recommendations include a national recruiter registry, public disclosure of information, and the elimination of fees to workers. In support of rights-based migration, the report outlines eight principles that should underpin regulations in all work visa programs.

  1. Freedom from discrimination and retaliation
  2. Right to know the process and their rights
  3. Freedom from economic coercion
  4. Right to receive contract with fair terms and give informed consent
  5. Accountability of the employer
  6. Freedom of movement while working in the U.S.
  7. Freedom of association and collective bargaining
  8. Access to justice

Global instruments

The most meaningful global efforts involve pushing for adoption of relevant ILO conventions and protocols. Unfortunately, the most relevant convention, C181 - Private Employment Agencies Convention –which seeks to regulate the practices of private employment agencies, has only been ratified by 27 countries, with few of the major teacher recruiting or exporting countries on the list. Outside of this normative framework, the International Office on Migration has recently launched a new project called the International Recruiter Integrity System that many advocates are watching carefully. A number of private efforts to shore up industry practice have also been undertaken in recent years, including the Dhaka Principles for Migration with Dignity set out by the Institute for Human Rights and Business, but they are voluntary guidelines lacking in enforcement and accountability mechanisms. 

More information on the International Recruiter Integrity System.

Voluntary codes

At national level, many unions and advocates are pushing for more effective recruitment regulation and enforcement. In the absence of strong national laws governing recruitment practices, voluntary codes of ethics are an alternate path to try to improve industry practice. In one such example, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, along with EI, took part in a multi-stakeholder process to negotiate a Code of Ethical international Recruitment and Employment of Teachers to the U.S. The negotiations were convened by the Alliance for Ethical International Recruitment, and included employers, recruiters, unions, and migrant teachers. The Code, which bans placement fees and staffing or supply agencies, is due to be released in 2014.


Pittman, Patricia. Alternative Approaches to the Governance of Transnational Labor Recruitment: A Framework for Discussion. Paper commissioned for the MacArthur Foundation, 2013. 

International Labor Recruitment Working Group (2013), The American Dream Up for Sale: A Blueprint for Ending International Labor Recruitment Abuse. Washington, D.C.: ILRWG.

Pagaza, Alejandra Constanza, and Gisele Lisa Bonnici (2013), Quo vadis? Reclutamiento y contratación de trabajadores migrantes y su accesso a la seguridad social: dinámicas de los sistemas de trabajo temporal migratorio en Norte y Centroámerica, INED.