The Fair Group
Two Years in Review
Our mission is to build market solutions to end the forced labour of migrant workers across Asia.
Tough Years Globally,
We Find Hope in Adaptation
The world has been through a lot since we did our last report.The global pandemic has taken millions of lives. Tens of millions of families lost their livelihoods, experiencing economic insecurity that hadn’t been experienced in generations. Immeasurable psychological despair was felt by billions of people globally.
Though Covid-19 affected all of us, it’s important to acknowledge the disproportionate suffering that it has caused to those in and from the developing world. Many who read this may never fully understand the pain which the virus inflicted. This is especially true for migrant workers who found themselves living and working in close proximity for weeks on end.
It’s been particularly tough for domestic workers. Many workers who we spoke with have not been able to work and provide for their families, pushing them into financial hardship and unemployment. Workers desperate to seek work are at the hands of bad actors in the market trying to exploit them by imposing extra fees and charges in order to meet the additional regulations. While for workers in Hong Kong, restrictions on travel and tighter immigration policies have posed concerns for workers who fear the consequences of leaving unsuitable job situations.
It’s safe to say that the last two years have been tough for the migrant domestic worker industry. As the global economy slowed down, migration corridors have closed up almost entirely. Our agency and training center have felt significant pressure. Months of travel ban meant that we could not deploy workers. Training too has been stalled for months without any clear sight of things going back to normal.
With so many livelihoods lost, the bravery and determination of the millions of migrant workers globally is what motivates us to keep moving forward. One key thing that these past two years have taught us is, Adaptation. With all the challenges we have faced, it’s pushed us to adapt the way we work and operate our businesses in a way we’re not used to. It pushed us to challenge ourselves, to innovate and to think and work in ways we’ve never done before. Actually, it has made our team stronger and more resilient.
Through it all, we are even more clear that forced labour is a solvable problem. Though at times there seemed to be no hope, the team always persevered and worked tirelessly to the ever-changing situation. We couldn’t be more proud of how our team has responded. We're now much more prepared for sudden changes, and we’ve learned to be more innovative and determined than ever before.
We are still uncertain what a post-pandemic world will look like, but with the support of our team, including our staff, board members, funders, partners, companies, supporters, community members and volunteers, we believe we will get through it together, stronger.
Fair Employment Agency
Fair Employment Agency is a non-profit employment agency that is driving industry standards for hiring migrant domestic workers. Established August 2014, we reinvent domestic worker hiring and place migrant domestic workers with Hong Kong employers, without worker placement fee and matching employers and workers.
In spite of all the challenges these past two years presented, new research shows we are still seeing improved market conditions for workers as it relates to agency fees. There’s still a long way to go to end the exploitation of migrant workers but this type of progress gives us more confidence that the debt bondage and forced labour related abuses are indeed solvable problems.
Alliance of Progressive Labor, License to Exploit: A Report on the Recruitment Practices and Problems Experienced by Filipino Domestic Workers in Hong Kong, 2013 https://idwfed.org/en/resources/license-to-exploit-a-report-on-recruitment-practices-and-problems-experienced-by-filipino-migrant-domestic-workers-in-hong-kong/@@display-file/attachment_1
Rights Exposure, Fit for Purpose? Assessing compliance with the Code of Practice, 2022 https://view.publitas.com/rights-exposure/fit-for-purpose-assessing-compliance-with-the-code-of-practice/page/1
Covid created unprecedented challenges for the migrant domestic worker industry. It goes without saying that Covid had a huge impact on businesses, social or otherwise, across the globe. But where some of our other businesses were able to adapt and grow impact during Covid, our agency really took the brunt of the pain. It challenged the agency in a way we have never experienced and we could not operate the way that we were used to.
Shortage of domestic workers
From January 2020 to the end of 2021, the city's number of domestic workers dropped from 400,000 to roughly 340,000. Many workers were renewing their contract with their current employers while many others returned home. Meanwhile, workers were not able to come to Hong Kong due to travel restrictions and government mandated lockdowns.
Restrictions on movement
Flight bans, quarantine hotel shortages, additional medical requirements and essentially closed borders resulted in unprecedented levels of uncertainty and complexity. The many changes in policies and increased rules and regulations for travel have also complicated the migration process. This gives bad actors in the market the opportunity to exploit desperate workers by imposing extra fees and charges in order to comply with additional regulations.
Tighter labour market made hiring staff difficult
Hiring and retaining internal staff has been tough especially in a difficult industry like ours. Faced with staff shortages and increased pressure to meet the demands of the market, we knew we had to act and think differently to attract talent.
Statistics on the number of foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong provides figures concerning the number of foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong, 2022 https://data.gov.hk/en-data/dataset/hk-immd-set4-statistics-fdh/resource/b983aa1d-2617-4051-9ec1-dc5ca281b117
How We Adapted
The team has worked tirelessly to the ever-changing situation. Uncertain of the road ahead, we had to be patient and stay optimistic. We couldn’t be more proud of how our team has responded. We're now much more prepared for sudden changes, and we’ve learned to be more innovative and resilient than ever before.
Expanding Our Reach
Before the pandemic, workers were generally interviewed in-person. As COVID-19 hit and social distancing measures came into place, walk-in appointments were no longer possible. We adapted quickly and moved most of our services online. We made a huge shift to conduct interviews with workers via video call. This opened up opportunities to expand our reach to more workers in Hong Kong and overseas.
Improving Internal Processes
We’ve always known the key to our success was good communication. The constant changes in policies can be unnerving for employers and workers. We saw an opportunity to tighten our internal processes so we can get information communicated quickly and thoroughly to our clients. Through training and internal improvements of our team, many of our workers and employers have expressed their satisfaction with our services, with 95% employers who would recommend us to their friends.
Improving Workplace Satisfaction
We knew that we had to innovate the workplace to attract and retain talent to help advance our mission. So in 2021, we positioned ourselves to launch the 4-day work week arrangement in 2022. We're already seeing a promising impact on attracting talent and seeing higher levels of satisfaction and productivity among the team.
Expansion into Indonesia Market
In Hong Kong, Indonesian workers represent almost half of the migrant domestic workers. They've been subject to the most prevalent forced labour conditions for years. Indonesians were more likely than Filipino respondents to have paid illegal and/or excessive fees, with 91% of Indonesians and 16% of Filipinos stating that the employment agency collected fees. Employers of Indonesian workers have few ethical recruitment options and support. Since we started Fair Agency, we’ve wanted to impact the Indonesian market. However, Indonesia's exorbitant placement fees and complicated processes have made it challenging for us to follow Indonesian regulations and uphold our ethical standards there. But we continued our expansion plans and adapted to government changes.
In February 2020, we began expansion plans and opened a branch office in Tsuen Wan, a strategic location for Indonesian workers and local Hong Kong employers. We’ve seen healthy growth in increasing Fair Agency’s presence among local employers and workers in the New Territories area.
When flight bans were imposed on the Philippines and the government mandated a lockdown, we looked to the Indonesian market where borders were still open.
We started looking for an ethical agency in Indonesia that we felt confident in partnering with. In 2021, we were proud to secure an Indonesian partner agency and began our expansion into Indonesia worker placement. In the same year, we began processing our first overseas Indonesian workers as well as contracts for Indonesian workers already in Hong Kong. Soon after, the Indonesian government banned pre-departure placement fees to workers, making it easier for Fair Agency to work with this market. It's an encouraging step forward for our efforts to grow and impact the Indonesian market.
Rights Exposure, Fit for Purpose? Assessing compliance with the Code of Practice, 2022 https://view.publitas.com/rights-exposure/fit-for-purpose-assessing-compliance-with-the-code-of-practice/page/1
Towards Elderly Care Employer Education
As Hong Kong's population ages, the work of domestic workers will become increasingly essential to Hong Kong families. Elderly care is demanding work and, without clear management and support, workers are prone to caregiving burden and burnout. Management of eldercare situations can be very complicated and challenging. Employers need to be equipped with the right management skills to navigate these difficult situations.
With the growing eldercare needs in the future, the need for employer education is more apparent than ever. Our goal is to provide training for frameworks that lead to successful employer-employee relationships. When employers have the skills to manage eldercare workers effectively, they will increase retention rates, bolster quality of care and create an age-friendly city. We will continue to engage cross-sector stakeholders to influence plans for elderly care in Hong Kong and push for broader employer education.
Fair Training Center
Fair Training Center is a nonprofit training center in the Philippines with a mission to end the forced labour of migrant workers by reinventing domestic worker training. Established in November 2016, our training prepares migrant workers as professionals and successful migrants.
When Covid hit, our Manila-based team experienced a material upheaval in their operations with the suspension of in person training and lockdowns lasting 11 weeks across Manila. Ironically, these realities allowed for openness to innovation in training methods that would never have been possible without an event like Covid.
Covid brought the whole industry to a halt. Training, assessment and deployment was suspended in March 2020 with no clear end of Covid in sight. Tens of thousands of workers were waiting to be deployed and unable to leave to work abroad. It became difficult to do what we set out to do and train workers waiting to make the leap of migration.
Covid Restrictions and Backlog of migrants
Multiple lockdowns, community quarantine mandates and travel restrictions in the Philippines made it impossible for workers to leave their homes to attend training. However, completing a National Certificate II (NCII) on domestic work is a national requirement for training centers. Many prospective workers weren’t able to complete deployment requirements. As a result, there was a backlog of workers waiting to be deployed overseas.
Covid slowing down migration industry
As business slowed down for some agencies and groups due to the pandemic, they were able to take a deeper look into the work they were doing and rethink training. Many workers had few options for high quality training that truly prepared them for migration. Agencies saw how workers could benefit from better pre-migration preparation. Especially in times of uncertainty, training was important to prepare workers not only for work abroad, but for their life and future.
How We Adapted
Time for Innovation
From the beginning, we have been finding ways to innovate training. Because of our years of gathering data, our solid research and development and the onset of Covid, we were able to test blended learning methods that combine online learning and in-person training. We were confident that in the long run, online training can be scaled, delivered at low-cost, and controlled for quality. We knew that online training worked and was the way of the future. 100% of our pilot program trainees passed the government assessment. With government-mandated lockdowns, the necessity to maintain physical distancing and the backlog of workers, now was the time to push the blended learning model forward. The blended training would reduce the 28-day live-in training, which was previously the standard to 18 days, and help workers save time and money from unnecessary travel and lodging for training.
Partner with Stakeholders
We knew we couldn’t do it alone. We worked closely with the International Labour Organisation and TESDA, the Philippines training governing body in the past two years to launch the hybrid model. Thanks to the guidelines and expertise from TESDA and ILO, we were able to develop a blended training program that could fulfill the government’s deployment requirements, combining both online and in-person training. The ILO-TESDA pilot training program was officially launched in May 2021 and then became a successful pilot program with the Philippine government. We were the first training service provider to partner with TESDA and ILO to launch a hybrid training program. This was a breakthrough result for both the Fair Training Centre and the training industry as this was the first time that online training components was introduced to domestic worker training.
Offering Non-Government Required Trainings
Following the success of our pilot program, our life skills module started to gain traction. More industry players started to recognise that life skills training is just as important as technical skills training to truly prepare workers for life abroad. As more agencies and groups started to approach us for life skills training, we then collaborated and designed the Life Skills Workshop, a pre-departure preparation workshop, empowering workers to become successful in their work and life abroad. In this 4 day online workshop, workers learn important skills like financial management, migration adaptation, handling homesickness and parenting from abroad. We also saw an exciting opportunity to extend the workshop’s reach beyond domestic workers to migrant workers in different industries, allowing more migrant workers to have safe and sustainable training.
Beyond Domestic Worker Training
In 2021, Fair Training Centre partnered with Philippines Transmarine Carriers to expand its pre-migration training to include seafarers. Our training prepares them for successful migration and planning for their future. In-person training restrictions nudged our training for seafarers to be conducted online. This allows prospective seafarers who live in different provinces in the Philippines to participate. So far, over 380 seafarers have attended the life skills workshop and the feedback has been positive.
Other training centres, agencies and organizations in the Philippines and abroad are showing interest in our training approach. We see great room for expansion. This allows us to think beyond domestic work and expand our reach across different industries such as manufacturing, medical and hospitality. The team is excited to keep innovating and to create workshops that are tailored to the needs of each industry.
Make Curriculum the National Standard
After the success of the ILO-TESDA pilot program, we hope that TESDA will make our blended curriculum the new national standard. We will continue to work closely with TESDA to develop relevant curriculums, training regulations for other workers.
We expect to continue to engage with the government, to align assessment standards with the blended learning curriculums and assessments. We will work on influencing other stakeholders in the field and influence training in various sending-side countries such as Indonesia, Thailand and Bangladesh.
With the positive results of the blended-training model, we will continue innovating and optimizing our online training. In particular, looking at how training can be delivered with shortened durations and the effectiveness of online materials to teach essential job and destination-specific skills for workers. Looking forward, we will work with a broad range of stakeholders to better train migrant workers as they prepare for life abroad.
Honest Jobs is our impact investment holding company that provides flexible investment funding to local entrepreneurs, to enable other ethical agency players across the region to drive progress in their own local markets.
Challenges in establishing sending-side agency
Following the progress Fair Employment Agency made in Hong Kong, we felt it was time to set up a fully ethical migration chain from the sending country to the receiving country. It made sense that we establish ourselves in the Philippines, the main source of migrant domestic workers to Hong Kong. So we began the steps to establish a Fair owned sending-side employment agency, called Honest Jobs Agency. However, as newcomers to the scene, we believe our involvement raised scrutiny and attention from the status quo. Unfortunately, the regulatory constraints and barriers to entry made it infeasible for us to establish a sending-side agency in the Philippines as we planned.
How We Adapted
Invest locally, think regionally
In working with Pinkcollar, we’ve learned that we need to localise our approach. Instead of building Fair entities in new markets, we are finding local entrepreneurs who share our values. Local entrepreneurs are better able to navigate bureaucratic red tape without raising concerns from entrenched interests. This should ease the process of obtaining and maintaining essential business licenses and be powerful, local voices for ethical recruitment. As we identified high potential entrepreneurs, it became clear we wanted to partner with them. In order to ensure our partners continue to be mission aligned, we will use tools such as equity, board seats as well as other creative solutions to give us influence in perpetuity.
Despite the economic uncertainty created by Covid, we are proud to be able to navigate through the uncertainties and launch our investment approach, Honest Jobs Holdings. We established Honest Jobs Holdings in 2018 to manage our investment in the Honest Jobs Agency in the Philippines. Though the Honest Jobs Agency did not work out as we planned, we can use this entity to fund, support, and mentor entrepreneurs who are dedicated to building ethical recruitment agencies across Asia. Investing in and providing in-depth advisory support, allows us to be part of solving these problems regionally without managing the day-to-day operations. We are optimistic that this new business line will allow us to expand our regional impact on the migrant worker market.
Over the years, we had many people across Asia and the Middle East ask for support in starting companies following Fair’s model. When the Philippines government delays created some capacity on our team, we looked for opportunities to engage these ethical players and gather funds to invest in these agencies. When one of Fair’s former interns quit her job to co-found Malaysia’s first ethically focused recruitment agency, we saw an opportunity for expanded engagement. This became an exciting opportunity to help guide her and her co-founder. Fair made an investment into Pinkcollar Employment Agency in 2020, to test the mechanics of the investment approach.
As we look to the future, our plan is to expand the Fair model to more countries and industries. To do this, we will continue to seek opportunities to invest in local, ethically minded employment agencies in new countries. We look to partner with local entrepreneurs in sending-side countries including Philippines and Indonesia while also engaging with destination-side countries including Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. By engaging both sending and destination-side agencies, our goal is to build a network of ethical players from across Asia who can form ethical pathways for migrant workers.
Thinking beyond domestic work, we look to work with agencies and brands operating in major industries that rely on migrant labour, including manufacturing, hospitality, healthcare and agricultural industries. Migrant workers in these industries have long been subject to exploitative and unethical recruitment practices. Yet, ethical options are usually far and few between. But we do see that many of the world's largest brands are interested in eliminating exploitative recruitment practices that lead to abuse or mistreatment. By working with agencies and brands in these industries, we anticipate significant opportunities to disrupt unethical players in these markets.
Our regional expansion will require us to raise funds to support our growth and investment into groups working on solving the ethical recruitment problem. We will continue to look for impact investors that align with our mission. We are optimistic that our ethical recruitment operational experience, pragmatism and trial investment experience will make it attractive for investors. By seeking mission-focused investors and investing in like-minded local entrepreneurs, this will enable us to make broad industry change regionally and globally.
Fair Employment Foundation
Fair Employment Foundation builds market solutions to end the forced labour of migrant workers across Asia. Established in November 2014, we build business models designed to scale, to make the market work better for workers and employers.
Guiding employers through uncertainty
Covid has created unprecedented levels of uncertainty. With constant changes in travel and the migration process, employers hiring domestic workers need reliable and timely updates. This created a burden on our teams across all of our initiatives, and additional stress for workers and employers alike.
How We Adapted
Delivering immediate information
In response, we focused on creating time-sensitive content for employers and workers who are all currently navigating COVID issues on our online resource for employers of migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong, Get Answers (www.fairagency.org/answers). A wide range of hiring and managing topics are covered here including important information on hiring and travelling in times of COVID. Many people told us that our Get Answers section became the source for accurate actionable information during the times of greatest uncertainty.
Our Five Year Vision
We have long sought to become a regional player, in expanding access to ethical recruitment. Given the complexity of migration, we realised that there’s very different circumstances for each migration corridor. So, we created a Five Year Vision that factors in the unique challenges and opportunities associated with each market. This is an exciting step for Fair because it shows our region-wide approach is starting to take root. Below is a summary of the Five Year Vision:
Expand our reach into Indonesian Domestic Worker Placements
Engage on elderly care needs in Hong Kong through employer education
Filipino workers don’t pay placement fees
Indonesian workers pay much less
Collaborate with the Government to set Standards for Pre-Migration Training for all training centers serving domestic workers across the Philippines
Our curriculum is adopted as the Philippine Government's Standard
Agencies and/or employers start bearing some of the training costs
Invest and Mentor Other Local Entrepreneurs & Ethical Agency Players to empower a wave of new and growing ethical recruitment firms across Asian region
Employers focus on using Ethical Recruitment firms
No-fee recruitment policies emerge from the Governments and Industry
Our Supporters and Our Financials
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 in 2020-21 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 key donors in 2020-21:
Global Fund to End Modern Slavery
Macquarie Group Foundation
DH Chen Foundation
Our supporters in 2020-21 who lent us their expertise, time, and key resources:
Gibson Dunn, Oliver Welch.
Hogan Lovells, Eugene Low, Catharine Lau, Ruth Barnes
Herbert Smith Freehills, Jamie McClaren and Rachita Bhagnani
PJS Law, Ramil E. Bugayong
Stephenson Harwood, Tzei Wei, Jezamine Fewins
Interns: Jason Yu, Megan Lee, Rachel Cheng, Rubie Lee
Management financials shall be updated once audit is complete.
Leading the Way
Aimee Gloria, Interim CEO of Fair Employment Foundation & Executive Director of Fair Training Center
Grace Cheng, General Manager of Fair Employment Agency
Carmel Laurino, Managing Director of Honest Jobs
May Liu, Communications Manager
Rachael Ma, Development Manager
Hannah Kitching, Finance and Compliance Officer
OUR BOARD OF DIRECTORS
FAIR EMPLOYMENT FOUNDATION
FAIR EMPLOYMENT AGENCY
FAIR TRAINING CENTER
Tammy Baltz (resigned in 2022)
Arlyn Gigi Buzetta Gatti (resigned in 2022)
Maria Raquel Chavez
Gershwin Abesamis (joined in 2022)