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a hidden form of forced labour

Domestic Servitude

Domestic servitude is a form of modern slavery that is extremely hidden and challenging to detect. This is because domestic servitude happens in private residences as a seemingly normal practice and there is a severe lack of legal protection. Domestic work inside a private residence is used as a cover for the exploitation and control of people who work as nannies, live-in cleaners, or other domestic help. When these people are employed for domestic help but are in situations where they are unable to leave of their own free will, it becomes a form of domestic servitude.

Domestic servitude is considered to be a form of forced labour but due to its extremely hidden, unique and complex nature, it falls under its own category of modern slavery too. Victims of domestic servitude are expected to work 24 hours a day, every day of the week, within a person’s home. Victims can be a spouse, partner, child, family member, any age and gender, a UK national or a foreign national. People subjected to domestic servitude are often isolated because their freedom of movement is restricted (i.e. any official documentation (passports) are taken and they are unable to leave the house). Furthermore, unlike forced labour in corporate supply chains, inspections of private homes cannot be carried out. 

Domestic servitude can also be a form of bonded labour whereby victims have to repay any debts (i.e., costs to the trafficker of reaching a destination country, travel or recruitment fee etc.) through labour. As victims of domestic servitude are paid very little (if anything at all) and traffickers may add additional costs (i.e. housing, food, water costs etc.), it is likely that debts are never repaid. 

Domestic servitude can happen in our communities and potentially even on the street we live on. Communities must be vigilant and aware of the signs. 

Spot the Signs of Domestic Servitude (source – Unseen UK):

  • The individual may be held in their employer’s home and forced to carry out domestic tasks such as providing childcare, cooking and cleaning.
  • The individual may not be able to leave the house on their own, or their movements could be monitored.
  • The person may work in excess of normal working hours.
  • The individual may not have access to their own belongings, including their ID, but also items such as their mobile phone, which can isolate them.
  • The employer may be abusive, both physically and verbally.
  • The person may not interact often with the family they are employed by.
  • The person may be deprived of their own personal living space, food, water, or medical care.
  • The individual may stand out from other family members, noticeable as they may wear poorer quality clothing.