How Domestic Workers Become 'Commodities'

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Anti-Slavery ActivistsDomestic Slavery

Dozens of listings on Singaporean online marketplace Carousell sparked outrage last week as it emerged that domestic workers were being marketed and sold like products.

In the fallout, Carousell suspended the account of the employment agency behind the ads and the Singaporean Ministry of Manpower (MOM) suspended the agency’s license. MOM is now conducting an investigation into “inappropriate marketing” of domestic workers on online marketplaces.

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But this isn’t the first time domestic workers have been traded like discounted products on sale.

DW spoke to Anis Hidayah from Freedom United’s partner in Indonesia, Migrant CARE, to understand why this issue keeps popping up:

[DW] This is not the first case where Indonesian migrant workers have been sold like commodities, correct?

No, it is not. In 2006, Indonesian migrant workers were not offered online, but rather they were lined-up for sale at shopping centers in Singapore. There were even apartment listings promising to provide two free maids from Indonesia. This has been happening for a while.

[DW] How does this phenomenon affect worker safety?

If homeowners or industries recruit their workers from these kinds of online platforms, they are more likely to exploit workers because they think they’ve already bought them in the first place.

[DW] If these cases are not new, why do they persist?

The Indonesian government has never taken serious action against these advertisements. I remember there was one advertisement in Malaysia in 2012, offering migrant workers “on sale” for 40 percent off. The government at the time didn’t respond diplomatically, instead they considered it like a sticker ad for a toilet pump that didn’t need to be seriously dealt with.

Hidayah also explained that the Carousell case is especially troubling because it is contravenes legal recruitment channels in Indonesia.

“One of the requirements for workers to be able to work outside of Indonesia is that they have an employment contract clearly stating the address of their future employers. It means that they should already know and have employers before leaving the country,” she said.

“But related to the case in Singapore, if the workers are offered in ads, it means they do not yet have an employment contract.”

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