Five Years in Review
Fair Employment Foundation
Fair Employment Foundation
Our mission is to build market solutions to end the forced labour of migrant workers across Asia.
It’s hard to express my pride in the progress Fair has seen over the last five years. When we started, we claimed to be setting the new standard which the migrant recruitment industry would follow. I am happy to report that this is happening!
There have been industry-wide changes, as employers pay more of the recruitment costs and workers pay significantly less. There is decreased churn and more stability for workers and employers. Governments have changed laws to protect workers and address the root causes of exploitative recruitment. We are proving the importance of training which is focused on preparing workers for life abroad. New agencies, inspired by Fair’s progress, have also started popping up across Asia.
The pace of progress is encouraging, but there is still much work to be done. We believe, now more than ever, that this is a solvable world problem. There will be a lot of challenges along the way. The events of the past year, starting with the political unrest in Hong Kong and continuing on with the COVID-19 pandemic, have forced us to think bigger. Migrant workers are some of those who are hit hardest in these times. We feel a renewed sense of urgency and resolve to find solutions to these problems.
We believe that in the next five years, Fair will catalyse more progress with even greater impact. We’ll do this by continuing to push for progress with our current initiatives, while looking outwards to create similar results, in other countries and industries.
In closing, I need to express my overwhelming gratitude for the Team that has stepped up amid such uncertain and challenging times. Our “Team” includes our employees, board members, funders, partners, companies, volunteers and mentors who lift and direct our work. So many incredible people have been part of this Team. Not only have they gotten us where we are today, they bring their perseverance and determination each day. Thank you for being part of this team (because if you are reading this, you probably are on it!).
CEO and Co-Founder
The Fair Model
How migrant recruitment should work
Currently, migrant recruitment is a highly fragmented process. This means it is difficult to place accountability and pinpoint problem areas. This fragmentation has led to overcharging of workers and other abusive practices in the market.
The migration process needs to be readapted and streamlined. We outline how this can be done in the Fair Model for recruitment. In the Fair Model, we shift the incentive structure so that the parties are focused on getting the best-prepared workers into jobs. By streamlining the employment agencies with other elements of the process there is greater accountability to and transparency for workers and employers.
See the full, detailed maps of the current industry standard and the Fair Model.
The doorbell rang. It was Jenny, the domestic worker who worked next door. She was weeping and pleading for money – and not an inconsequential amount. Her situation was one that too many migrant domestic workers find themselves in.
I myself have employed domestic workers and served on the Board of an NGO servicing domestic workers. But I was left feeling that we kept returning to the same problems over and over again.
Then, I learned about the trio working on an ethical recruitment agency that would beat out bad actors. It was different. They saw an opportunity to solve the root problems in migration. It was a solution I wanted to be a part of.
Migrant recruitment has the potential to lift millions globally out of poverty. It can help employers find reliable access to the talent and labour they need. But the migration journey needs transparency and accountability before we can achieve this. It requires removing fees to workers and realigning market incentives with the interests of workers and employers. We outline how this would work and how current barriers in the market can be addressed, with the Fair Model for migrant recruitment.
We have done a lot of work at Fair over the last five years. We have set standards for the industry to follow, and seen the market in Hong Kong change in the right directions.
Thank you for supporting us to get us where we are today. We are excited to share with you the growth and progress we have ahead.
Driving down fees-to-workers
Debt bondage to recruitment agencies is a primary cause of forced labour across Asia. Desperate workers take out extortionate loans to pay employment agencies huge fees for the chance to work abroad. These fees create debt bondage situations, prevent workers from being able to report abuses and unsafe workplace conditions.
Debt bondage affects half of the estimated 16 million victims of forced labour in the private economy (‘Global Estimates on Modern Slavery’ 2017, ILO).
Domestic workers make up the largest share (24%) of those in forced labour. (‘Global Estimates on Modern Slavery’, 2017, ILO, (p.32)).
31% of domestic workers reported no choice but to stay with the same employer because of money paid for their job even if there was abuse (‘Modern Slavery in East Asia,’ 2016, Farsight (p.28)).
We saw a broken system and knew we could do better.
Fair Employment Agency opened its doors at the end of 2014, offering a new and ethical option for migrant domestic workers and employers in Hong Kong.
Workers are never charged for their recruitment at Fair Agency and employers are provided clarity on the pricing and process upfront. When workers don't pay recruitment fees, they are able to leave unsuitable job situations without fear of financial repercussions.
Setting a new ethical standard means setting a new service standard too. Our consistently high-quality service and transparency have strengthened our reputation and brand over these five years:
Applicants and potentials jobs are vetted and matched to create successful and lasting employment situations
Timely updates are provided throughout the processing period
The agency follows up with both workers and employers and fulfils responsibilities as the agency.
Fair Employment Agency is now one of the biggest Filipino domestic worker agencies in Hong Kong. Fair Agency now has two branch offices: one in Sheung Wan on Hong Kong Island, and one in Tsuen Wan which was opened early in 2020 to better service the Kowloon and New Territories areas.
workers placed into jobs fairly.
of Employers would recommend Fair Agency to a friend
of Workers report job-satisfaction
Driving down fees-to-workers
Over the past five years, we've seen the market change in the right direction. There are several great organisations working to improve the lives of migrant workers in Hong Kong and so this progress cannot be attributed to any one entity. Nevertheless, Fair's unique approach has played a disruptive role in the market status quo.
Several years back, employers were only paying US$500 to hire a migrant domestic worker in Hong Kong. Workers were being charged by agencies to cover the direct expenses of recruitment instead. Filipino domestic workers were paying US$2000 to agencies.
'Survey Showed Varying Agency Charges for Hiring Foreign Domestic Helpers,' 2011, HK Consumer Council
'License to Exploit,' 2013, Alliance of Progressive Labor (p.25)
Fair Agency opened at the end of 2014 and charged employers US$1,000 and workers paid nothing for their recruitment. We took a different approach to recruit workers as well. Employers are finding it increasingly unacceptable that agencies depend on "biodata" of candidates - worker's height, weight, marital status - to vet and refer candidates. We created a worker application process which focuses on the candidate's experience, skills, and job preferences.
We soon saw other agencies change their pricing models and even service practices. By 2017, agencies raised their service prices to employers to US$1,000-1,500.
'Service Charges for Recruiting Foreign Domestic Helpers Could Vary to over One-fold,' 2017, HK Consumer Council
Workers Pay Less
Fees to workers decreased from US$2000 to US$700. Assuming 30,000 Filipino workers went through agencies in 2019, this means workers kept US$39,000,000 instead of exploitative agents.
Making Migration Work, 2019, Seefar (p.34)
Retention Rates Increased
With employers paying more to hire and being provided with more professional recruitment services, retention rates increased.
In 2016, Hong Kong Immigration saw a significant 21% increase in contract renewals. This was a huge change for a number that had never seen dramatic year-to-year changes. There was also a decrease in new worker visas. This means that workers are finding steady jobs, and employers are valuing the people that work for them.
Change is happening
Changes in the last few years in Hong Kong are better protecting workers and their employers. Here are some major changes:
In January 2017, The Hong Kong Immigration Department, at the urging of the Philippines Overseas Labour Office, made changes to the labour contracts for migrant domestic workers to ban dangerous window-washing of high-rise homes after several deaths of workers.
The Hong Kong Immigration Department changed their walk-in appointment policy in 2017. This would avoid dozens of workers sleeping outside Immigration every day to get their appointment slots.
The Hong Kong government put into effect the Employment (Amendment) Ordinance in 2018. The maximum prosecution of illegal recruiters increased from a fine of US$6,400 (HK$50,000) to a fine of US$45,000 (HK$350,000) and three years imprisonment.
The new Employment Agencies Portal by the Labour Department now publishes information about agencies warned or convicted of violations. These are steps towards real deterrents to employment agencies acting unlawfully.
“When I was admitted to hospital, Fair Agency kept in touch with me and even bought me apples. When I returned to work, they still messaged me to know my condition. I'm so grateful for all the care throughout.”
- Mary Ann, a worker
Demonstrating the value of training
Our early years building up Fair Employment Agency taught us so much. We met hundreds, thousands of workers to understand their migration journeys better. Soon, further questions about the devastating vulnerabilities faced by worker arose.
Migration is a big step for workers, and they need to be prepared with the skills and tools to help them be successful while working abroad. However, in reality, workers are paying huge sums of money (ranging from HK$1,200 – 15,000) for training that was not preparing them as professional workers.
30-40% of first-time domestic workers' contracts are prematurely terminated (both by the employer or by the worker) within the first three months of employment in Hong Kong.
Only 6% of domestic workers were returning home feeling that they had enough saved. (‘Modern Slavery in East Asia,’ 2016, Farsight (p.42))
77% of domestic worker returnees re-migrate for work. (‘Modern Slavery in East Asia,’ 2016, Farsight (p.52))
We saw an opportunity to reinvent the training that domestic workers were receiving before they left the Philippines. Fair Training Center was accredited and opened in late 2016.
A key focus at Fair Training Center is professionalizing the approach to working abroad. By focusing on key elements of successful migration, our training improves results and reduces turnover rates.
The motto at Fair Training Center is: “It’s not just your job, it’s your life!” Trainees at Fair Training Center are prepared for the (hard) reality of life as a domestic worker and the change migration will bring to their lives and to the lives of their families.
The pillars of Fair Training Center's curriculum are:
Financial education: budgeting, saving and goal planning
Communication: Managing difficult situations, problem-solving and professional communication skills
Rights education: Understanding rights and entitlements. Directions to local service organisations
Psychosocial preparation: Dealing with homesickness, and managing family relationships
Adjusting to life abroad: culture, transport, lifestyle, etc.
Hard skills: cleaning, cooking, laundry, using appliances, etc
When they arrive at their destination country, they remain connected to the Fair Training Center community online where they have access to expertise and encouragement.
Training currently offered include:
Soft Skills Training for Overseas Filipino Workers
Safe Migration Orientation
domestic workers trained.
Worker turn-over rates reduced by 50%
Fair Training Center
Fair Training Center
Trainees stay connected to batchmates, and alumni on Facebooks moderated by Fair Training Center trainers. Article sharing, video chats and messages keep the community updated and informed.
Fair Training Center keeps a section on their website, the Info Hub, updated with informative articles for overseas workers: Info Hub.
Demonstrating the Value of Training
Current industry practices have devalued training but with small changes upfront, we can change workers' whole migration experience. With our first 500 trainees, we see that our training is working.
Most apparent is the personal transformation workers go through at Fair Training Center. They leave seeing themselves as professionals. Helping workers professionalize their approach to migration is key to helping them succeed abroad.
The early results of Fair Training Center's approach tell us such training is transformational. Termination rates are below our target of 15% in the first three months of a contract. Workers are having financial conversations with family members and following budgets. While savings are not as high as trainees planned at the Center, workers ARE saving. 84% of trainees report they are saving towards their goals while working abroad.
Fair Training Center now delivers pre-migration trainings for domestic workers deploying to multiple destinations, primarily to Hong Kong and Malaysia. Curriculums to prepare workers in other migrant work industries for successful migration have been developed.
Fair Training Center has also developed a Training of Trainers programme on Safe Migration for the Voice of the Free, a Philippine NGO. Fair Training Center was also invited by the Internationa Labour Organisation to be part of the Integrated Programme on Fair Recruitment (FAIR) – Phase II.
84% of Trainees are saving while abroad
Described as the gold standard for
pre-migration training by International Labour Organisation Philippines
Making employers part of the solution
One of the things we have believed from the beginning is that most employers want to do the right thing. But hiring and managing someone is hard - especially when there are cultural and professional gaps to overcome.
On top of this, unscrupulous agencies create failure for profit. 57% of employers we surveyed were not aware of the charging of illegal fees to migrant domestic workers.
Unfortunately, there is very little guidance on how to navigate this migrant worker hiring and managing. Information provided often involves confusing jargon or are based on misinformation or myths.
When people are aware, they set better expectations and create successful employment situations. And when employers know how to hire fairly, they will drive the market demand for ethical options.
We launched the Fair Hiring Pledge, in 2016, as a way to engage corporates and their staff. Companies are increasingly using their position of influence to make the world a better place. We saw an opportunity to create win-win situations by helping companies support their own staff to juggle home life and manage domestic workers fairly.
Making Employers Part of the Solution
Since the launch, 21 companies have signed the Pledge. Their public statement of supporting ethical recruitment is a clear message to the community and their own staff.
The Pledge is a valuable way to support staff with their home-lives. As part of their commitment, companies host our Lunch & Learn sessions on domestic worker hiring and management. These friendly hour-long sessions make it easy for people to get practical guidance and ask personal questions to our experts.
To follow on from these sessions, is an online resource for employers of migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong, Get Answers (). The online portal reaches around 50,000 pageviews per month. A wide range of hiring and managing topics are covered here, including time-sensitive content that may affect workers and employers.
21 Companies are signatories of the Fair Hiring Pledge
2,200 people educated at Fair Hiring Pledge events
75% found the session added considerable new information on hiring fairly
50,000+ monthly unique views online
Nurturing ethical recruitment across Asia
Expanding the Fair Model
Often employers are uninformed about exploitative recruitment. Even when employers are concerned about forced labour, they face limited or no options to avoid worker placement fees.
As one large hospitality group in the Middle East told us: “We are very cautious when hiring out of certain markets and try to ensure that there is no fee... Unfortunately, we still find that some agencies force payments out of applicants without our knowledge, and [workers] have to pay back several months of salary to recruitment agencies.”
The market needs more ethical players for broader change. The next stage for us is to expand the Fair Model to more countries and industries. We are in the process of approaching this next strategy in a few different ways.
In 2019, we began building out a team in the Philippines to develop an ethical sending employment agency, Honest Jobs. As one of the largest exporters of migrant workers, the Philippines has the potential to set the standard for ethical migration.
We see the potential for Honest Jobs to elevate the standards by partnering in many receiving-side markets. Going into this next initiative, we made it a priority to build a strong team. We have been fortunate to find individuals, each with a strong track record of creating better futures for Filipinos, for this team. As we expected, there have been set-backs, but we know we have the team who can work through them. While there is much ahead of us, this has the potential to impact millions of migrant workers.
Nurturing ethical recruitment across Asia
In parallel to this work, we have continued to open ourselves up to those who are willing to become ethical players in this market. An example we’re most proud of is Pinkcollar Employment Agency, Malaysia's first ethical domestic worker agency. One of the co-founders of Pinkcollar, Elaine Sim, interned at Fair Employment Agency (FEA) when she first was exploring issues in migrant recruitment. We connected her with her now co-founder, Zenna Law, who reached out to Fair separately.
Knowing the thoughtfulness that the Pinkcollar founding team has towards these issues, we saw an opportunity to provide mentorship and share the elements that make FEA successful.
“Pinkcollar launched its services with a tried-and-tested recruitment strategy that we felt confident with, thanks to our mentor, Fair’s guidance. FEF has helped us set up a strong end-to-end recruitment pipeline that is ethical and responsible.,” Zenna Law.
By supporting ethical players in their home markets, we can initiate broad industry change globally, making unethical recruitment unprofitable.
Five years of dedication
Our donors and supporters are among the leaders in the fight against modern slavery. They are individuals and organisations who approach this global problem in innovative and pioneering ways. Their commitments allow us to do our work and strive towards our vision of the future.
We would not be where we are today without them.
A huge thank you to our donors:
Global Fund to End Modern Slavery
Macquarie Group Foundation
Goldman Sachs Gives
Caroline and Stefan Kracht
Emily Halsall and Toby Lawrence Rolfe
Jennifer Meehan and John Lewis
Jo Oswin and Kylie Uebergang
Krystina and Chris Warner
Tammy Baltz and Ian Smith
and others who have chosen to stay anonymous
We are grateful for our supporters: individuals who have given us countless hours, expertise, and key resources.
Here are some of the ways they have helped us achieve all that we have in our first five years.
Kelly Austin, Gibson Dunn
Oliver Welch, Gibson Dunn
provided us with key legal guidance
Dr. Staci Ford, University of Hong Kong
Archana Kotecha, Liberty Shared
Matt Friedman, Mekong Club
Carmen Lam, Pathfinders
shared their expertise
to help our teams stay informed
Sanday Chongo Kabange
and many more volunteers from
Hands on Hong Kong
got out there with us for our street outreach to workers
Five years in review
A solvable world problem
When I started working with domestic workers in the early 2000s, unethical agency fees was the most notable challenge facing workers who were in Hong Kong providing for their families back home. From these fees stemmed a host of other abuses and problems that served only to profit exploitative recruiters.
The options we can provide workers with Fair today are options that workers like Erwiana Sulistyaningsih did not have. She was indebted to her agency and endured months of abuse by her employer. We can fix this broken system to work for the millions of migrant workers across Asia and their employers.
We have the opportunity to change the trajectory for millions of workers and their employers. We have already started to see the impact of the Fair Model in Hong Kong, and it will be exciting to see where the next five years will take us.
There is a lot to be done ahead of us and I am so grateful to be working on this project with such an amazing team, and with the backing of our supporters and donors. Thank you for your dedication and commitment to build solutions with us.
Co-Chair and Co-Founder
Scott Stiles, CEO and Co-Founder
Zofia Niesterowicz-Lawrence, Senior Partnerships Manager
Victoria Ahn, Senior Communications Manager
Lidia Garcia, General Manager at Fair Employment Agency
and the Fair Employment Agency Team
Aimee Gloria, Executive Director at Fair Training Center
and the Fair Training Center Team
Carmel Laurino, General Manager at Honest Jobs
and the Honest Jobs Team
OUR BOARD OF DIRECTORS
FAIR EMPLOYMENT FOUNDATION
OUR BOARD OF DIRECTORS
FAIR EMPLOYMENT AGENCY
OUR BOARD OF DIRECTORS
FAIR TRAINING CENTER
Maria Raquel Chavez
OUR BOARD OF DIRECTORS