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How thousands of domestic workers were left vulnerable to “modern day slavery” in the UK

An  independent review of UK government's visa policy reveal that it left domestic workers at risk of abuse at the hands of their employers. 

The “tied visa” policy specifically prevents maids, nannies and other domestic workers who move to the UK with an employer from changing jobs while they are in the country. This effectively means they cannot seek legitimate job opportunities to escape an abusive employer. In other words, they are trapped in a form of "domestic slavery."

Incidents of this kind of abuse are high. A separate report from the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group reveals that 66% of the domestic workers interviewed reported they were not able to leave the house of their employers freely, while 31% claimed they were not paid at all.  

And almost ⅔ of those interviewed were found to have been trafficked to the UK. 

While it’s easy to believe that slavery is a problem democratic societies have overcome, its persistence across the world is staggering. The UN estimates that there are 27-30 million people living in slavery today.

The UK government has stated its commitment to tackling this global issue - the National Referral Mechanism is dedicated to identifying victims of trafficking to the UK and providing the necessary support.

Although the signs of modern slavery are not always easy to spot, a person is considered to be living in slavery if they are: 

- forced to work - through mental or physical threat;

- owned or controlled by an 'employer', usually through mental or physical abuse or the threat of abuse;

- dehumanised, treated as a commodity or bought and sold as 'property';

- physically constrained or suffer restrictions placed on his/her freedom of movement.

Slavery, an oppressive system that denies human dignity by turning a person into a commodity, was an entrenched feature of the global economy in the 19th Century, and its presence has not yet been confined to the history books.  Without careful scrutiny, many organisations and economies are at risk of implicating themselves in this exploitative supply chain. The practice is so pervasive forced labour is now the third biggest criminal industry in the world. 

Tackling human trafficking and modern day slavery is key to achieving Global Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth for all. The 17 Global Goals, signed by every UN member state, came into effect at the beginning of this year.  As the UK’s example shows, all governments - developed and developing alike - must be held to account on their promise to uphold human dignity and create a world where fair labour is universal. This is essential to creating a world without extreme poverty.