Corporate Social Responsibility for Refugee and Migrant Workers

There are some good examples of successful efforts to institutionalize new corporate CSR “codes of conducts” standards, which this initiative aims to build upon. For example, the guiding principles of the UN Social Compact that were developed by Harvard Professor John Ruggie who also served as the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises are instructive. The principles are directed at helping to integrate the management of human rights risks into contract negotiations on investment projects in host state entities and foreign business investors. The Compact was the product of four years of research and multi-stakeholder discussions and negotiations. The principles have slowly gained widespread acceptance. More than 1,000 major corporations have signed onto the 10 guiding principles as have more than 160 countries. The principles have also been endorsed by 80 member cities and many countries are also pursuing the principles nationally. 

We believe that a related effort involving hiring practices and labor standards regarding refugees and migrant workers would, in some respects, be an easier “sell” because major corporations in Western countries — notably Canada, the United States and some European countries — are already formally committed to employing refugees and migrant workers in their labor force and this group of companies would serve as a good group or “coalition” to start with to institutionalize these practices more broadly. Similarly, in the case of establishing a certification body(ies), the existence of “fair trade” certification in both Canada and the United States bodes well for developing an additional branding mechanism for consumer products (and potentially services as well) produced by refugees and migrant workers. This strikes us a logical next step in the “fair trade” certification process and could also be developed in cooperation with these existing entities. 

The specific measures to codify best practices in the private sector on refugees are the following: 

  1. Including refugees and migrant workers in the ESG (environment, sustainability and good governance) policies of major corporations (usually found in corporate annual reports);
  2. Securing the involvement of major international bodies at the private and intergovernmental level (ICC, OECD and ILO) via a targeted research and engagement strategy to promote these norms (both are “measurable” outcomes of effectiveness, efficiency and equity to promote normative change in the private sector concerning both the hiring and “best” (i.e., fair) labor employment standards and practices regarding refugees); and
  3. Developing a refugee/migrant certification process for goods and services to advise consumers that specified products and services are produced or provided by refugees and migrant workers who have been treated justly and fairly compensated. It should be noted that it will be important to develop a certification process that is thorough, rigorous, comprehensive and not automatic, and which enlists unbiased third-party auditors, including representative of refugee communities, to evaluate corporate performance against those standards. 

The creation of a refugee-made/migrant worker goods and services certification body (with different national affiliates) — akin to fair trade certification bodies in different countries — would mark the successful completion of this project. We believe that there may be an opportunity to work with existing, nationally based fair-trade certification bodies to develop these standards and include refugee- and migrant-produced goods and services as part of their certification processes though, in some settings, it may be necessary to establish an independent certification body and process.