Ruling in Hong Kong's First Judicial Review on Forced Labor

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Anti-Slavery ActivistsDebt BondageDomestic SlaveryForced LaborHuman TraffickingLaw & Policy

An appeals court in Hong Kong has ruled in the city’s first-ever judicial review of forced labor and human trafficking.

The three judge panel ruled that the Hong Kong government needed to do more to investigate cases of forced labor, but concluded that the government was not obligated to specifically criminalize forced labor or human trafficking.

At the heart of the case was whether or not a Pakistani migrant domestic worker, referred to as Zn, was a victim of forced labor and if human trafficking for the purpose of forced labor was covered by Article 4 of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights. Additionally, the court was tasked with deciding if the government failed to investigate Zn’s case.

Although slavery is prohibited in the Bill of Rights, the judges ultimately concluded in their 106-page judgement that Article 4 does not cover human trafficking.

The South China Morning Post reports:

The court had heard Zn worked in Hong Kong as a domestic helper for a fellow Pakistani employer, who made him work 15 hours a day without pay, from 2007 to 2010, during which he was also subjected to constant threats and beatings.

Zn testified that when he returned to the city illegally in 2012 to claim more than HK$200,000 (US$25,480) in unpaid wages, he found himself shunted from one government department to another as each claimed his grievances were not under its purview.

“On the evidence, it would appear that [the government officers] were almost as ignorant as the victim himself regarding the concept of forced labour,” Justice Andrew Cheung Kui-nung wrote.

He said the government breached its investigative duty under Article 4 because of a lack of training and the total lack of central supervision and coordination in terms of investigating and combating such violations, to the point that practically nobody realised Zn was a possible victim of forced labour.

“Victims may be ignorant, but the government cannot,” Cheung continued.

Cheung also emphasized that it would be a “quantum leap” to say that the Hong Kong government needed to specifically criminalize forced labor, reasoning that the system failed Zn not because existing laws and policies were ineffective, but because there was a lack of awareness of them.

Zn’s lawyer, Patricia Ho, expressed her disappointment at the ruling.

“The judgment is clearly disappointing in that it does not require the government to specifically criminalise human trafficking and forced labor,” she said.

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