Domestic worker cleaning window
Domestic worker cleaning sponge

I worked eighteen hours a day, seven days a week, without any rest. I worked like a slave and was treated like one.

They beat me regularly. The son of Madame tried to rape me several times. They always kept me locked inside the flat on the 13th floor. I couldn’t go out for three years!

Fasika, Ethiopian former domestic worker in Lebanon. Read her full story.

What is domestic slavery?

Domestic work is a sector which is particularly vulnerable to exploitation and domestic slavery because of the unique circumstances of working inside a private household combined with a lack of legal protection.

Domestic workers perform a range of tasks in private homes including: cooking, cleaning, laundry, taking care of children and the elderly and running errands. Some domestic workers also live in their employers’ homes and are often considered ‘on call’ to undertake work for their employer 24 hours a day.

The pay is often very low, with wage payments frequently delayed. Some domestic workers may not be paid at all or only receive ‘payment in kind’ such as food or accommodation.

For some domestic workers, the circumstances and conditions of their work amount to slavery. This happens when employers stop domestic workers from leaving the house, don’t pay wages, use violence or threats, withhold their identity documents, limit their contact with family and force them to work.

How does domestic slavery happens?

The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that at least 67 million men and women work as domestic workers across the world, not including children.

Women and girls make up the overwhelming majority of domestic workers, around 80%. ILO estimates that more girls under the age of 16 work in domestic service than in any other category of child labour.

Some domestic workers are migrant workers from other countries or regions, mainly from rural areas to the city. For many, domestic work is one of the very few options available to enable them to provide for themselves and their families.

Domestic work is poorly regulated and undervalued. In many countries, domestic workers are not considered ‘workers’ but rather as informal ‘help’ and are excluded from national labour regulations.

Often they do not enjoy the same protections as other workers, such as legal contracts, minimum pay, holidays, health care, social security and maternity benefits. In countries where domestic workers are covered by national labour laws, enforcement is poor and these protections have not been translated into practice.

Anti-Slavery International was one of the first organisations to highlight the issue of domestic slavery, particularly for child domestic workers and migrant women.

In 2011 our Home Alone campaign played a big part in persuading the International Labour Organization to adopt a Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, which secures the rights of millions of domestic workers across the globe.

Now we work with children in domestic work in Peru, in Tanzania and with women migrating for domestic work from Nepal and Bangladesh to the Middle East, as well as those migrating within India.

We also campaigned to protect domestic workers migrating to the UK to remove visa regulations tying them to only one employer.