Strategic Partners Handbook

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Issara InstituTe: MISSION & VISION


To leverage our labour expertise, unique business intelligence, and position on the ground to help business partners:

  • Increase visibility of labour and social risks throughout their supply chains.

  • Help suppliers implement solutions to labour risks in ways that improve business systems, and engage the feedback and experiences of workers.

  • Assist and refer exploited workers in need.


To decrease forced labour and human trafficking in a measurable and scalable way by:

  1. Transforming how global brands and retailers, and their suppliers, identify and address labour issues in global supply chains – that is

  • Shifting away from the audit/compliance (point in time) approach

  • Adopting the proactive Inclusive Labour Monitoring (ILM) Systems approach and worker voice and

  • Building truly more ethical, slavery-free sourcing channels, with worker voice throughout  

2. Empowering migrant workers and victims of forced labour with better information and options – to know how to find out and choose safe work and living conditions, to vote with their feet (work for rights-respecting businesses) and to eliminate the need for exploitative brokers and middlemen.




The Strategic Partners program

Issara Institute's Strategic Partners Program brings together global retailer and importer partners, to work together with local supplier businesses and a range of NGOs, academics and technical experts in a public-private sector partnership to address issues related to trafficking and forced labour in supply chain throughout Southeast Asia.

Issara's Strategic Partners are comprised of leading retailers and importers who, in a series of individualized and group activities, target forced labour and trafficking risks in select supply chains, as well as through collaborative action with industry.




What is Inclusive Labour Monitoring?  

Issara Institute developed the Inclusive Labour Monitoring® method (ILM) as a cost-effective, more precise and more comprehensive alternative to social audits in identifying and addressing vulnerabilities faced by migrant workers in global supply chains. Bringing together intelligence from the 24/7 migrant worker hotline, workplace assessments, management interviews and worker interviews, as well as migrant community visits, local expert interviews and port risk assessments, Inclusive Labour Monitoring enables Issara to monitor labour situations on an ongoing basis, providing real-time visibility of what is happening on the ground. 

Through the Strategic Partners Program, Issara Institute works with Strategic Partners (Global brands, retailers, and importers), to implement the Inclusive Labour Monitoring method for selected supply chains. As a result, partners will have greater visibility of potential labour-related risks within their supply chains, and be able to identify and mitigate labour risks before they escalate to the public sphere. 

How is Issara’s approach different from social audits? 


The majority of forced labour and other serious labour abuses identified by Issara Institute have been in regularly audited workplaces. Issara’s Inclusive Labour Monitoring system differs from audits in 5 key ways:


  1. Issara’s data collection and analysis is ongoing, rather than being a single point-in-time as with audits.

  2. Entire supply chains are covered simultaneously by the monitoring system, including brokers; audits only cover one workplace at a time.

  3. Issara’s model centers on worker voice and feedback, providing thousands of diverse data points to build a nuanced picture of the labour management systems in the workplaces of global supply chains. While audits may attempt to interview some workers on-site, generally it is a very small number and not under conditions where the worker feels comfortable to talk freely, or through a trusted organization with established local knowledge and labour expertise.

  4. Issara exists for the purpose of implementing solutions with measurable results. While audits may make recommendations, there are often firewalls and other issues preventing audits from leading directly to practical solutions.

  5. Issara’s Inclusive Labour Monitoring system is scalable and cost-effective, compared to audits, which are typically priced per workplace.

Check out this infographic, which illustrates some of the key differences!

What information are Strategic Partners required to provide to Issara Institute to enable Inclusive Labour Monitoring?


In order to enable proper implementation of the Inclusive Labour Monitoring approach, Issara requires transparency from retailers and importers around their Thai-based supply chains. On signing the Strategic Partners' agreement, partners agree to share the names and locations of relevant businesses within their supply chain within twenty working days, as well as facilitating introductions and access to key factory/supplier personnel if requested.


Partners are expected to reasonably support Issara in assessing current work place, business, environment, and human rights risks, as well as collaborating with Issara and relevant suppliers to work together to improve working conditions.

What happens once Strategic Partners share their supply chain data with Issara?


Once partners share their supply chain data , the Issara team will begin by selecting a number of priority suppliers to engage, based on their importance across multiple supply chains, as well as prior knowledge of hot spot areas. The team will analyze hotline data for historical information regarding the listed suppliers, and contact key informants on the ground for recent intelligence and information on potential risks, kick-starting the Inclusive Labour Monitoring Process. Following this, the team will conduct a series of field visits, speaking with the community, putting up hotline posters (both in factories and communities) and gathering further data needed for identifying potential risks and issues. Where retailers have specific requests for suppliers to be investigated in line with blind spots in their supply chain, Issara will also target these.  


Are Strategic Partners expected to introduce Issara to its suppliers?


This depends on the supplier. In some cases, it is sufficient for the Strategic Partner to share the suppliers contact details with Issara’s team, who will then get in touch to set up a meeting with the supplier independently. In other cases, suppliers benefit from further encouragement from the Strategic Partner before agreeing to open their doors to Issara. It is often useful for Strategic Partners to facilitate an introduction with suppliers who are not immediately open to the idea of working with a new NGO.

How will I know that Issara has begun working in my supply chain?


Issara will begin reaching out to key suppliers as soon as supply chain information has been shared and prioritised. It is not customary for Issara to notify Strategic Partners when visits are taking place.


Will I be updated on progress made with each of my suppliers?


When a serious incident arises, partners will receive an Issara Issues report within 72 hours of the issue having been identified and will receive follow-up reports on progress made until the issue has been resolved. Further engagement with suppliers is ongoing, and issues identified throughout the year, which are not urgent issues related to trafficking or forced labour, will be captured in the biannual company specific risk reports provided to Strategic Partners.


Is it compulsory for suppliers to put up Issara hotline posters?


Putting up hotline posters is voluntary, however, given that Issara will report on general progess and levels of engagement made by the supplier to their customers, refusal to put up hotline posters may reflect poorly on the supplier in question.  


What happens if a supplier refuses to work with Issara?


It is normal for suppliers to be reluctant to engage when first approached by a new NGO. Their prior experience of working with NGOs may have been negative, or they may think that Issara is yet another audit company, coming in to take up their time and resources. It is important for suppliers to understand that Issara is not an audit company, that it operates a strict no 'name and shame’ policy, and that its advisory services are entirely free. In addition, issues identified and acted on by the Issara team often end up saving suppliers costs in the long run, as these problems can be resolved before the next audit is scheduled. It is often useful for the Strategic Partner to explain this to suppliers prior to Issara’s initial visit. If suppliers prefer, Issara can offer to set up an introductory visit, where the approach is explained further, and trust is built. After the introductory meeting, suppliers usually feel comfortable to continue the relationship, and open its doors for Issara to begin implementing its Inclusive Labour Monitoring model.


In extreme cases where a supplier refuses to engage, whether this is refusal to put up Issara’s hotline posters, or refusal to follow up on an issue identified by Issara, they must be made aware that this information will be fed back to their customers and may have potential consequences.


Membership Structure 

Issara's Partnership Model  

The Issara Strategic Partnership model is two-tiered, geared to importers and retailers. Importers and retailers contribute financially to Issara's work, and receive benefits and services that other partners do not have access to. Retail and Importer partners are considered 'Strategic Partners', whereas local supplier businesses that are engaged through Strategic Partner supply chain work are considered 'Regional Partners'. Regional Partners do not receive reports like Strategic Partners, but are working closely with Issara on an ongoing basis to resolve potential issues within their supply chain. 

Other, non-business partners have no financial obligations or requirements, and are not part of Issara’s governance process or supply chain work at this stage. 

A Multi-stakeholder platform 


Issara Institute partners with a wide range of organizations and individuals, to convene its multi-stakeholder platform for collaborative work. This includes local and international NGOs, academics, technical experts and legal consultants, as well as technology development partners. These partners are engaged in a range of different work streams, including Working Groups, technology development, provision of service and care to workers and victims of trafficking, research, and data management.


Strategic Partner Working Groups

What are the strategic partner working groups?


Issara's Strategic Partners Program first brought together a wide range of partners, including retail and importer industry partners, local supplier businesses, NGOs, academics and technical experts to participate in a series of multi-stakeholder Working Groups (WG) designed to come up with innovative approaches to solving supply chain issues related to trafficking and forced labour. In 2016, four Working Groups were convened, and each group produced a landscape analysis which can be found on the publications section of Issara's website. Issara’s multi-stakeholder Working Groups are currently being restructured and seek to become more active platforms for engagement with Strategic Partners in 2017 through the Strategic Partners portal. Issara will be seeking feedback from Strategic Partners on topics of most interest, including potential groups looking at Slavery Free & Ethical  Recruitment System, as well as the Mainstreaming Worker Voice into Global Responsible Sourcing Channels.


Freedom of Choice 

What is the freedom of choice program?


Alongside Issara's work to strengthen labour systems in partner supply chains, provisions must be made to ensure that victims of trafficking, if and when identified, receive proper care and support. Issara’s multi-lingual hotline for migrant workers receives thousands of calls annually, and so must always be prepared to provide up-to-date information and make service referrals to callers. However, the overwhelming predominance of evidence indicates that the majority of victims of labour trafficking in Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries are harmed in/by the process of victim assistance—forced to stay in shelters against their will, not allowed to contact family or move freely, demoralized through a court process that ultimately does not usually yield justice or compensation, and not allowed to seek safe, legal employment. Therefore, in order to ensure that hotline and supply chain clients receive quality care and a positive experience overall, Issara offers empowering, non-shelter based assistance to victims of trafficking, based on victim needs and priorities.

Through Freedom of Choice, Issara offers assistance with job placement and safe accommodation (in partnership with local business partners), unconditional cash transfers, referrals to reliable medical and legal services, and family reunification. Issara’s approach to victim empowerment is significantly more empowering, more effective and more cost effective than other labour trafficking victim assistance programs in the region.

What is unique about the freedom of choice program?  


Issara's Freedom of Choice Program is the first in the world to provide unconditional cash transfers to victims of trafficking. In Southeast Asia as well as globally, it is common for trafficking victims to decline assistance that is offered to them by government and NGOs since the assistance does not address their greatest needs, allowing them to work or move freely. Issara's innovative, empowering approach to victim assistance provides victims with the information and resources they need to solve their own problems, whether health, economic, legal or otherwise.

How is the Freedom of choice program funded?


Issara's Freedom of Choice Program is funded, in part, by international donors, and in part by Strategic Partners. A portion of Strategic Partners' annual financial contribution to Issara's work (10%) is earmarked for the Victim Support Fund.

No trafficked persons have been identified in my supply chain, do i still contribute to the victim support fund?  


Despite the fact that victims supported through this fund may not have been identified in partner supply chains, Strategic Partners, in supporting Issara institute's work, are committed to supporting anti-trafficking, including victim support, more broadly. In public communications about the Victim Support Fund, Issara will always be clear about the fact that partner companies are contributing to the fund in demonstration of their commitment to addressing industry-wide issues of trafficking and forced labour, and not because victims were identified in their supply chains.


Financial Contributions

How are contributions to Issara classified?

In line with Issara's US tax deductible charitable status, partner contributions are not considered as 'fee-for service', but rather as ongoing support and commitment to partnering with Issara Institute to tackling labour issues in the industry.

When are partner contributions due? 


Partners' Annual contribution to support Issara's work is due and payable 14 days after signing the Strategic Partner Agreement. The second payment will be due nine months following the date of the first payment.

How are partner contributions allocated & spent?  

Partner funds are used in part to enable Issara to conduct its Inclusive Labour Monitoring of partner supply chains. In addition, partner funds contribute to the funding of Issara Working Group activities, as well as Issara's work in the anti-trafficking sector as a whole. A core part of the Advisory Committee's role is to ensure partner funds are appropriately spent and add value to Strategic Partners from year to year.

For more information on Issara finance, please go to our Finance Breakdown page. 


Communications & Publicity 

How will issara community publicly about strategic partners


Issara will acknowledge Strategic Partners both through presentation of partner logos on the Issara website, and broader communications about positive work conducted in collaboration with Strategic Partners. Partner engagement will be discussed broadly, without going into detail on specific company activities unless agreed with partners first. Issara will provide Strategic Partners with an opportunity to review and comment on the contents of public statements, releases, and reports produced as a result of Issara’s supply chain work in advance of its release to the public or any third party.

How can my company best communicate about its partnership with issara?  


Issara Institute is compiling a series of communications materials with key talking points for partners, to ensure all Strategic Partners are communicating about the Strategic Partners Program in a unified way, which will be found in the Strategic Partner’s Portal.

The Strategic Partners Agreement requires retailers and importers to make a public statement of commitment to addressing labour issues including trafficking and slavery in their supply chains. Partners who require guidance on this, or on how best to communicate about Issara Partnership to external stakeholders prior to the release of Issara's guidance on key talking points, should contact Issara's Partnerships & Communications Officer.  

What kind of communication can we expect from issara?  


  • Regular outputs from Working Groups, which may include webinars, reports, tools or guidebooks, etc.

  • Regular and open communication and exchange with Issara Institute staff

  • Biannual company specific tele-briefings (confidential to company)

  • Quarterly industry tele-briefings (confidential to all members)

  • Updates and incident reports as and when issues arise


(c) 2020 Issara Institute.  All rights reserved.

Issara Institute, Inc. is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in the United States, and a registered non-profit foundation in Thailand.  All donations are tax deductible.

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