Good to see some international press on the abuse of helpers here in Asia's World City
ast year, the Hong Kong government passed a new rule to protect foreign domestic workers from cleaning high windows; in January of this year, it announced a code of practice for employment agencies. But little else has been done at the top level to ensure the workers' basic human rights. "There's a lack of acknowledgement that what migrant workers do is work—that it's a valuable contribution to Hong Kong," said Anderson, drawing on the Justice Center's interviews with foreign domestic workers. "Many talked about a general lack of respect for them as people—they were told what to wear, when they could go to the bathroom, and criticized for everything."
In March 2016, Anderson co-authored a report that found that 17 percent of more than 1,000 foreign domestic workers experienced conditions tantamount to forced labor. According to the Justice Center's interviews, these women were working and living under duress. They were on call day and night, their wages were manipulated, and their identity documents were confiscated. Employers also purposely isolated them, in many cases, allegedly taking away their cellphones.
Why foreign domestic workers stay trapped within this system of abuse is nuanced. The Hong Kong government only allows them to stay in the city for two weeks if their contracts are terminated—often deterring women from reporting severe cases of abuse. Beyond that, many are caught in spiraling debts to the employment agencies that brokered their contracts and are meanwhile breadwinners for their husbands and children in their home countries.