There is an old French adage stating that rules and regulations have been created to be by-passed. In this context, “by-passed” means interpreted and/or adapted in the light of the regulation’s spirit, so to remedy its possible weaknesses. Unfortunately, interpretation can also lead to abuse.

In modern developed countries, employment is one of the most regulated sectors of the economy and its regulatory framework often calls for interpretation. In the UK the room left open for assessment of the conditions under which an employment trial period should be paid or not is amongst the most challenging and disputed ones. Despite various calls for adequate legislation prohibiting the practice of un-paid trial periods, the UK Government has only issued non-binding guidelines, assuming that tribunals will use them to assess potential employer’s wrongdoing… as if the victims of those practices could afford engaging in trials!  Therefore it is no surprise that only a couple of years following that un-enforced guidance, another petition to ban un-paid trials has been launched.

Working together to create change: the state, the not-for-profit and the private sector firm

Abusive un-paid trial practice happens all over the UK and Reading is no different to any other town, as its councillors discovered when they were made aware of wilful abuse happening in their wards. Thanks to its broad-minded members, Reading Borough Council decided then to not only tackle any form of recruitment wrongdoing but also to promote, encourage and celebrate ethical recruitment practices as well as to provide guidance for recruiting managers and small organisations not familiar with the regulatory framework surrounding recruitment.  So far so good, but the Council had no budget, nor time, and there was no template they could simply draw upon. They needed dedicated expertise to create the required recruitment gold standard and move their project forward.

Looking for local expertise, Reading Borough Council engaged with Ethical Reading, a volunteer led social not for profit activist enterprise. Ethical Reading is known for its ability to transform principles into action, and the Council’s ambition to provide a community-anchored deterrent for job-applicant abuse and exploitation and to promote ethical recruitment practices was a perfect fit with Ethical Reading’s own ambition to make Reading a better place to live and work and with its aims to inspire, educate and collaborate. Again, so far so good, but although it had time, project management and ethics expertise, Ethical Reading had no money nor specific recruitment knowledge.

Amongst Ethical Reading’s most engaged followers was James Parkin, a director working for international professional services and recruitment company the Eximius Group (which has a Reading presence). James happened to be extremely keen on the ethics of recruitment and his value-driven CEO very generously encouraged him to share his time and experience, and the Eximius Group also agreed to financially support the project. The dream team was complete.

In partnership with Ethical Reading, the Ethical Recruitment Charter was launched

One meeting of this pioneering cross-sector grouping later and the format of our action was established:

  1. Creation of an “Ethical Recruitment Charter” based on key principles and associated Guidelines, as well as publication of supporting educational material related to recruitment best practices (including indeed a ban of un-paid trial periods!)
  2. Creation of a “Proud Recruiter” self-registration system, enabling job applicants to report breaches of the Charter by registered proud recruiters

That was in May 2019 and the rest is history. Reading’s Ethical Recruitment Charter was launched on the eve of the 1st lock-down back in March 2020. It is a great tool enabling companies to evidence their values, attract talent and demonstrate that they are willing to walk the talk. It is also a great enabler for recruiters to educate those of their clients who do not always care for their job-applicants… And it is more than ever relevant under the current crisis as some companies’ survival stress could lead their managers to contemplate many forms of unethical recruitment practices or even worse abuse of job applicants.

This is a real story. All organisations, persons and characters are real. They share one passion for Ethics and one love for their community. All thrive on the same ambition to inspire, educate and collaborate… Could this be the motto underlying a social licence for business?


Antoine de Vazelhes

Director, Ethical Reading

NB: The beauty of Reading’s Ethical Recruitment Charter is that it is transposable anywhere… You just need a community willing to fight for Respect Transparency and Fairness, and we’ll hand-over a duplicate of our system over to you!


Antoine became a director of Ethical Reading in August 2019, having joined earlier in the year as a volunteer focused on helping us engage new Partners. Ex-officer of the French Navy, he went on to dedicate much of his career managing the risks and compliance exposures of a global not-for-profit IT and telecoms organisation. A true believer of the benefits of a ‘beyond profit’ culture, he is determined to make a material impact in supporting society’s harmonious development.