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Slavery in Domestic Work: The Potential for State Responsibility?

Published on September 17, 2018        Author:  and
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On 10 September 2018, UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, Urmila Bhoola, presented her latest report to the Human Rights Council. The report focuses on an often-hidden aspect of modern slavery – the slavery and servitude of “marginalized women workers in the global domestic economy” (para 11). In this post, we highlight key findings of the report and also indicate areas for further exploration, including the potential use of State responsibility.

11.5 million domestic workers are international migrants, which represent 17.2% of all domestic workers and 7.7% of all migrant workers worldwide (para. 31). To give a sense of the scale, in Hong Kong there are 370,000 domestic workers of which 98.8% are women.

The social, cultural and racial biases these women face are often extreme. To give an example, Sondos Alqattan, an Instagram star and makeup artist with over 2.3 million followers, criticised new laws in Kuwait giving Filipino workers one day off per week and preventing employers from seizing their passports. She said, “How can you have a servant at home who keeps their own passport with them? What’s worse is they have one day off every week”.

The UN Special Rapporteur notes that the domestic work sector accounted for 24% of forced labour exploitation in 2017 (para 43). Exploitative practices include psychological, physical and sexual violence; retention of identity documents preventing freedom of movement; withholding of wages; and excessive overtime (para 42).

There are two aspects of the Report that make a particular contribution to the discussion of slavery in domestic work. Read the rest of this entry…