Widespread exploitation bordering on modern slavery

66% of Hong Kong domestic workers suffer strong signs of exploitation. 17% are in situations bordering on modern slavery. Other research overseen by or otherwise linked to private equity allies finds the same. These allies include Goldman, Macquarie, Paul Weiss, Davis Polk, Linklaters, Stanford, Columbia and many others.   

Coming Clean: The Justice Center Hong Kong pg 52

Domestic helpers in Singapore

Migrant women marketed like slaves

  • This Singapore agency advertises “fresh maids” for hire.
  • “The term “fresh maids” means they have not worked outside their home country before and are often sought after because they are thought to be more submissive and obedient.
  • They are less likely to ask for a day off or insist on their contractually agreed salary. They have fewer local contacts, making them easier to isolate. 
  • “Sold” means already hired.
  • This “slave market”-type advertising is now prohibited in Singapore, but the underlying “slave-like” employment practices are not. 
Indonesian domestic workers found listed on online marketplace Carousell; MOM investigating | Coconuts Singapore, 17 Sep 2018

Workers often go months without a salary

  • In this example, the agency charges the employer S$1,540, plus a S$2,500 advance for a placement fee to be repaid by the maid.
  • The employer will then deduct her entire salary for 5 months until she has repaid him.
  • The result is no salary for 5 months. In some cases, it can be longer.
  • If the worker is fired, she would likely go through the same no-pay period again with a new employer.
  • Being fired is common. Contracts are cancelled in 2 out of 3 cases before the full two-year contract period is up. 
Maid Avenue. Our Pricing - Most Affordable Maid Agency in Singapore

“Buy one get one free

  • Under this agency plan, the employer advances a “placement fee” to the agency and then recoups it by not paying the worker for up to 8 months.
  • This ad also makes the notorious “buy one get one free” offer.
  • By offering a “free replacement”, the employer can fire the worker at no cost to him, which further increases his leverage.
  • The new worker will still likely be subject to months of salary deduction as will the prior worker in her new employment.
Maid Avenue. Our Pricing - Most Affordable Maid Agency in Singapore, n.d.
  • In Singapore it is unlawful for a domestic worker to become pregnant.
  • Pregnancy results in immediate deportation and likely blacklisting from future employment in Singapore.
  • Employers must report pregnancies to the government or risk losing their S$5,000 security deposit.
  • One common pretext for never letting a worker leave the house is “She might get pregnant.”
  • The policy encourages employer control over the most intimate details worker’s personal life, which is an indicator of modern slavery.
E Manpower. What to do if your Maid is Pregnant, n.d.

Hard choice between abortion and job loss

  • Singapore’s policy in effect means she must get an abortion or loose her job.
  • If deported, she will give birth in her home country, making it difficult to establish paternity and seek support. 
  • The mother and child are treated as “disposable.” Less like a worker and more like a slave.
Yip, Christy and Yuxin, Peh. ‘A disposable population’: Pregnant maids face choice between abortion, losing job in Singapore | Channel News Asia. 16 Apr 2023

Police powers help enforce slave-like treatment

  • One necessary feature of a slave society is the use of police power to protect the corrupt order.
  • In both Hong Kong and Singapore, police tend to defer to educated, assertive employers rather than to domestic workers.
  • Accusations are difficult to validate, but domestic workers often spend weeks or months (sometimes in jail) waiting for their hearing.
  • Many workers are tricked into false confessions, which distorts the statistics.
  • This is an abuse of the police by employers. 
  • Politics plays some role. Employers vote. Domestic workers can’t.  
  • But the fact that abuse persists shows that governments may not be doing enough to investigate these abuses.
South China Morning Post. Domestic helpers in Singapore face ‘revenge accusation’ from some bosses for quitting job: report | South China Morning Post, 17 Aug 2023

No day off and lowest pay

  • The image to the right shows an employment agency ad highlighting maids that won’t ask for a day off and will work for low pay.
  • Demeaning “slave trade”-type advertising has been prohibited, but the “slave trade” recruitment and employment practices have not. 
  • Maids in Singapore are effectively guaranteed only one day off per month. Research shows many go for years with few if any days off.
Simpson, Jack. Modern-day slavery? Shopping mall in Singapore found to be selling housemaids like commodities | The Independent, 3 Jul 2014

Expatriate families are large employers

  • Agency advertising often focuses on expatriate families as they are, proportionally, among the largest employers of foreign domestic workers.
  • DWJI believes multinational firms have a special responsibility to ensure that their expatriate employees comply fully with local laws.
  • We define “expatriate executive” as anyone making more than US$250k per year and that does not have a Hong Kong or Singapore passport. 
  • We estimate that roughly 80% of expatriate family households in the private equity ecosystem hire domestic workers vs. about 15% of local households in these countries.
  • In talking to domestic workers in modern slavery conditions, we find the abusive employer is much more likely to be a lawyer or a banker in the private equity ecosystem than, let’s say, a truck driver.  This is simply because truck drivers don’t make enough to get approval to hire a domestic worker and because high status individuals know they can get away with this abuse.

© Domestic Workers Justice Initiative

This is a staging enviroment