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Why Hong Kong is so passive in Modern Slavery Bill legislation and Employment Agency Regulation?

Action Plan for Trafficking in Persons(TIP) was released this March subsequent to international and local pressure condemning inactions of the Hong Kong government in combatting human trafficking-related crimes. Local discussions in relation to the private member bill, Modern Slavery Bill proposed by Legislative Councillor Dennis Kwok were heated but no positive attitudes are substantiated in enacting such bill.

Employment Agency Administration(EAA) playing a pivotal role in combatting malpractices of EA, despite under financial stress, receives little to none financial support in its regulation of EA.[1] Having 1,434 agencies in Hong Kong, EAA has 22 officers with HKD2.3m non-staff budget covering range of duties from inspection, handling complaints to licensing.

One must not underestimate the connections between debt bondage faced by foreign domestic workers(FDW) and malpractices of EAs.[2] Despite statutory 10% fees limits, agencies often overcharge and request FDW to take out loans[3]

Hong Kong is economic-development-driven. Where extra resources are requested, the government inclines to resist unless with sufficient political pressure. The inherent differential treatments of FDW as compared to other employees, be it the live-in; 2-week rule or the distinctive standardized wages signify the rigid policies of the government[4]. Its passive approach are unlikely reformed. Albeit with intensifying advocacy from NGOs, institutional changes are slow to be seen.

Modern Slavery Bill is another attempt the local communities seek to achieving a feasible solution via the legislative, apart from the administrative route. The political tensions in the Legco often obstruct progressive proposals, especially from the pan-democratic parties which occupy minority seats in the Legco, making it almost improbable to satisfy the two-third threshold. Adding up to the hardships, the bureaucrats maintain their circular arguments that there are sufficient yet scattered legislations dealing with certain aspects of human trafficking. “The lack of statistics infer the lack of necessity to enact such legislations.”

Hong Kong Free Press, 2017

Nonetheless, they ignore the facts that lack of investigative powers stems from no comprehensive legislation specifically dealing with aspects of modern slavery. Consequently, it leads to vicious cycles of no official statistics revealing cases which should have been captured under our legal system.

Legal and social issues can never be severed from political perspectives. It appears we must take a bird-eyes view as to gathering sufficient public awareness and support. Lobbying and advocating the politicians can never be effective without the public getting informed the purposes of such paradigm changes.

[1] Information Request obtained in October 2018 from Employment Agency Administration

[2] Invisible Chains: A Study On Agency-Related Debt Bondage Among Foreign Domestic Workers In Hong Kong, Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants, 2014

[3] A. Zweynert, Abolish fees to end Hong Kong domestic worker debt bondage: agency boss, June 2015, Reuters, at

[4]HKSAR Immigration Department, Foreign Domestic Workers, at

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