Domestic servitude

A form of modern slavery with its own specific challenges

Au-pair, nanny, housekeeper or victim of abuse who cannot leave of their own free will? ... Can you tell the difference?

When is live-in domestic work modern slavery?

Live-in help can be a perfectly normal practice but it can also be used as a cover for the exploitation and control of somebody - usually from another country.

A live-in employment arrangement where the employee cannot leave of their own free will is a type of modern slavery known as domestic servitude.

Domestic servitude is a form of forced labour which sometimes also involves debt bondage. In some cases, it may be linked to forced marriage and child fostering.

The circumstances of live-in work can exacerbate the vulnerability and isolation of victims. It is much harder for authorities to inspect private homes in the way they could a formal workplace, making his type of exploitation easier to hide. Off-duty living quarters are attached to the domestic workplace and often there will be only a single worker and no-one to witness any abuse. The 'employer' may hold the worker's travel/identity documents, use the threat of deportation and exploit other vulnerabilities, such as language barriers, as a means of control.

When a domestic worker has been recruited from another county, domestic servitude can also encompass debt-bondage. Beginning with the worker incurring a debt for their travel or work placement, the employer or recruiter constantly adds additional fees (such as for food and accommodation) to the debt so that it keeps growing and can never be paid.

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Different models of exploitation

Victims are not related to their exploiters

Victims live with and work for offenders who are usually strangers. They may be employed for cooking, cleaning and/or child care. They may be forced to work excessively long hours and also be on call at other times of the day and night for little or no pay. They probably live in poor conditions with little or no freedom.

Victims who are exploited by a partner

Possibly already victims of forced marriage, they are forced to undertake household chores for their partner and often their partner's relatives. It is not uncommon for a spousal visa to be used to bring victims into the UK. Domestic servitude often occurs alongside sexual exploitation and domestic abuse.

Victims who are exploited by relatives

Victims live with family members - usually extended family where they may have been fostered with the promise of a better life in the UK. They are exploited for household chores and child care. Many victims of these circumstances are children themselves.

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Modern Slavery Helpline

Get help, report a suspicion or seek advice.

08000 121 700

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