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Employee background screening in Africa is possible

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As businesses across the world recognise the importance of thoroughly vetting their employees, to avoid unexpected incidents down the line, many multinational companies see this requirement as a near impossible task when it comes to their African operations.

Head of Managed Integrity Evaluation (MIE) Africa and International, Francois van der Merwe, comments: “Many African countries have legislation relating to personal privacy, human rights and employment, few of these laws govern background screening in the region. This presents a challenge for businesses that are nonetheless required to ensure the legality of their in-country recruitment practices.”

He explains that background screening within the continent is typically required by both in-country organisations employing local nationals, as well as international organisations from around the world looking to employ candidates from Africa.

“Among their verification requirements are identity, criminal record and qualification screening, as well as credit and employment history checks,” says Van der Merwe.

He highlights that, as in many industries, there is a delicate battle at play between the protection of data and freedom of information when it comes to background screening.

“If not examined carefully, one might see these factors as being mutually exclusive but they are actually equally important in delivering an open, honest, fair, transparent and comprehensive global background screening solution.

“Red tape related to the availability of data is often a massive barrier to the expansion of organisations across the continent’s borders,” he adds.

Although being cognisant of these barriers, MIE has noted a growing demand for background screening in Africa. International qualification checks with the company have an average year-on-year growth of 2,6%, African criminal checks growing by 60% and African identification screening by 71% annually.

Van der Merwe adds: “In our qualification screening globally, a massive average of 45% have been found to be fraudulent, falsified or inconsistent. Such a high percentage is partly due to candidates assuming that these cross-border qualifications cannot be checked or verified.”

He notes that, with this statistic in mind, it is unfortunate that recruitment staff will only conduct background screening checks in Africa if they are obligated by top management to do so.

“For the time being, the industry feels it is sufficient to either not conduct any cross-border background checks or to verify the qualification alone,” he says.

While van der Merwe emphasises that there are a number of factors to consider when entering some African regions – such as poor data, a lack of freedom of information (FOI) legislation and a lack of knowledge in terms of the background screening industry – screening current and potential employees in Africa is possible.

“Through direct contact with data sources and in-country partnerships, reputable background screening organisations can assist businesses in expanding their workforce with thoroughly vetted employees,” Van der Merwe says.