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Domestic Workers: The 'Legal Victims' of Human Trafficking.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has reported that migrants account for 3.3% of the world’s population.[1]The IOM defines a migrant as any person who is moving or has moved across an international border.[2]

The Yussuff’s moved to England from Nigeria in the 1960s in hope for a better life. The 1960s marked the height of the Windrush generation, whereby thousands of jobs opened up as a response to the post-war labour shortages in the UK. The Yussuff’s both secured jobs and had 4 children. When the economy in Nigeria picked up, they returned home. Their daughter, Basi, moved back to the UK at 18 to receive a better education at a UK institution. She then married Richard and had three children: Sophia, Adeniyi, and Hannah. Whilst Sophia studied law at a UK institution, she decided to move to Hong Kong for a year, to experience a new culture.

While this three-generation story rings sweetly, this is not the same for everyone. Many people migrate in search of an improved life but instead receive a life of discord and bondage. Modern Day Slavery (MDS) is where one is exploited, completely controlled and imprisoned by another.[3]Debt bondage and human trafficking are examples of modern slavery. Out of 40.3 million modern-day slaves worldwide, 30.4 million reside in the Asia-Pacific region.[4]

Does Modern Day Slavery Exist in Hong Kong?

Debt bondage occurs when people borrow money to pay their traffickers in exchange for a job abroad. Once they reach their destination, they have to work tirelessly to pay off their traffickers and essentially have no money left. This is the case for many foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong. Domestic workers are crippled by the lack of legal protection and regulation: passports being ceased by their employers, the restrictive ‘two-week’ immigration rule, and narrowed access to justice. Bishop reported the disparity between NGOs fighting human trafficking and the Employment Agencies Administration (EAA). NGO’s such as Pathfinders, Liberty Asia and more have over 50 full-time employees, thousands of volunteers and millions of dollars in annual budget. The EAA has only 21 employees tasked with inspecting thousands of employment agencies each year on a budget of HK$2.3 million.[5]There are more domestic worker agencies in Hong Kong than McDonald’s, 7-11 and Starbucks combined.[6]

How can a country that prides itself as a well-developed cosmopolitan society lack regard for basic human rights and fair treatment?

Affirmative Action?

Pressure from the West, NGOs and individuals fighting back has prompted some development.ZN[7]exacerbated that the government are negligent in its commitment to Article 4 of the Bill of Rights to prevent human trafficking cases from occurring.[8]This year, the government released an action plan to tackle trafficking.[9]Additionally, a draft Modern Slavery Bill for Hong Kong was submitted. However, the government remains defiant that change is needed.[10]

In order for Hong Kong to progress in this area, disruption is needed. It needs to begin with acknowledgement from the government.


[1]International Organisation for Migration, ‘World Migration Report 2018’ <> accessed 23 November 2018

[2]Amelia Hill, ‘Migrants, Expats, Asylum Seekers, refugees, IDPs- what are the differences?’ (The Guardian, 10 Sept 2018) <> accessed 25 November 2018

[3]Anti-Slavery International, ‘What is modern Slavery?’ <> accessed 25 November 2018


[5]David Bishop, ‘Why Hong Kong’s reputation as a human trafficking black spot is justified’ (South China Morning Post, 04 September 2018) <> accessed 23 November 2018

[6]David Bishop, ‘Hong Kong’s errant domestic helper agencies are everywhere and unafraid of the law’ (SCMP, 24 March 2018) <> accessed 25 November 2018

[7]ZN v. Secretary for Justice and others[2016] HKCFI 2179; HCAL 15/2015

[8]Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance, CAP. 383 < > accessed 26 November 2018

[9]Hong Kong Government, ‘Action Plan to Tackle Trafficking in Persons and to Enhance Protection of Foreign Domestic Helpers in Hong Kong’ (HKSAR Govt, March 2018) < > accessed 21 November 2018

[10]Herbert Smith Freehills, ‘Hong Kong Government Denies that New Laws are Needed to Tackle Modern Slavery’ (HSF, 08 June 2018) <> accessed 25 November 2018

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