UN Uses Blockchain to Fight Illegal Fees for HK Migrant Workers

The adoption of a new tool by U.N. Migration Agency hopes to prevent the exploitation of migrant domestic workers in the territory.

For migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong, illegal fees are a huge issue. The situation is also getting worse.

The Census and Statistics Department said that there are almost 390,000 migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong. That is nearly 1 in 10 of all workers in the city. Nearly all (98%) of these domestic workers are women. According to a recent survey, more than half (56%) of domestic migrant workers were charged illegal fees by recruitment agencies.

So, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the U.N. Migration Agency, teamed up with Diginex to create IRIS-SAFER. (IRIS stands for international recruitment integrity system, while SAFER is self-assessment for ethical recruitment.)

"Ethical recruitment practices are essential to improve the protection of workers, employers and recruitment intermediaries," said Giuseppe Crocetti, chief of mission at IOM China.

At the heart of IRIS-SAFER is a blockchain engine, which records immutable transactions. IOM hopes that the new tool will strengthen data management and enforce data integrity, allowing for a higher level of transparency and visibility.

“In Hong Kong, foreign domestic workers are some of the most economically vulnerable people in our society and pay approximately HK$700,000,000 each year in placement/recruitment fees. Being headquartered in Hong Kong, we believe it is vital to support the communities in which we operate, so this partnership and project is close to our hearts,” said Mark Blick, head of Government Solutions at Diginex.

IRIS-SAFER is initially being designed for use by representatives from the approximately 1,500 Hong Kong-based migrant domestic worker recruitment agencies as well as select associated agencies in worker-sending countries.

Agencies invited to use the tool - to assess their current level of adherence to global ethical recruitment principles as set forth by the IRIS Standard – will do so as a part of their participation in broader training on ethical recruitment.

Following the successful rollout of this tool in Hong Kong SAR and select countries of origin for migrant domestic workers, Diginex and IOM plan to roll out IRIS-SAFER to recruitment agencies in other jurisdictions globally. This launch follows a Memorandum of Understanding signed by Diginex and IOM to create IRIS-SAFER earlier this year.