There are an estimated 10,000 people living in modern slavery in Hong Kong (GSI 2018). Approximately 370,000 foreign domestic workers, primarily from Indonesia and the Philippines, work in Hong Kong; some become victims of forced labour in the private homes in which they are employed. An NGO report released in 2016 estimated as many as one in six foreign domestic workers is a victim of labour exploitation. Employment agencies often charge job placement fees in excess of legal limits, and sometimes withhold identity documents, which may lead to situations of debt bondage of workers in Hong Kong. The accumulated debts sometimes amount to a significant portion of the worker’s first year salary. Some employers or employment agencies illegally withhold passports, employment contracts, or other possessions until the debt is paid. Some workers are required to work up to 17 hours per day, experience verbal, sexual or physical abuse in the home, and/or are not granted a legally required weekly day off.
HM, a 28-year-old woman from Banten tells of being trafficked from Indonesia to Hong Kong as a domestic worker.
At the training centre in Jakarta, I signed what I think was my contract – it was in English and as I don’t understand English, I can’t be sure. The staff just told me to sign it without bothering to explain the content to me.
If we wanted to go home, we had to provide IDR 3,000,000 [US$310] or property certificate for a motorcycle or land as a guarantee to the recruitment agency. So, I had to remain at the centre for the entire nine months of my training because I had no money or property.
I had to work for the recruitment agency owner’s relatives who lived in a 3-storey house. I cooked and cleaned for them, and was paid IDR 300,000 [US$30] per month, which is lower than what other domestic workers in Jakarta earn. They make at least IDR 700,000 [US$70] per month. But I was in no position to refuse because if I did, the agency wouldn’t find me a job in Hong Kong.
My employer provided a piece of bread for breakfast and usually rice for dinner. Rarely would I get lunch. I was always so hungry that other Indonesian domestic workers in the apartment complex felt sorry for me and gave me some food.
My employers controlled everything that I did. I had no rest day and couldn’t leave the apartment unless I was accompanied by my employers. I was forbidden to talk to other Indonesian domestic workers – not even when I threw out the rubbish in the apartment complex – so I never knew anyone outside my employing family. Even my bedroom was restricted – I was not allowed to enter it until after 11pm.
After two months of employment, my employers terminated my contract. The grandmother brought me to the placement agency because she wanted to pay the rest of my salary directly to the agency. When she complained that I didn’t know how to do my job well, the agent slapped me many times, pulled my hair and pressed her finger on my forehead. Then the agent and my employer discussed something on their own and afterwards, told me to go home by myself.
Narrative provided by Amnesty International