Singapore, home to almost 250,000 foreign domestic workers, is facing controversy over allegations that workers are being marketed and sold like products by an employment agency.
Working conditions in Singapore are highly regulated and many people migrate from Indonesia to earn higher salaries. Despite this, Singapore is plagued by accusations of human trafficking through advertising and mistreatment of workers.
The unnamed employment agency accused of making the advertisements posted 50 listings advertising domestic workers “for sale.” Singapore’s labor industry, titled the Ministry of Manpower, suspended the agency’s license and are now conducting an investigation into inappropriate marketing of maids online.
Online advertisements attached to foreign domestic employment agencies are often linked to human trafficking as an easy way for employers to find cheap labor. If workers are in ads, it means that they do not yet have an employment contract with any major companies, setting them up for further exploitation.
This isn’t the first time Singapore has faced problems with human trafficking. In 2006, Indonesian migrant workers were lined up for sale at shopping centers in Singapore. Some advertisements for apartments also promise two free maids from Indonesia.
This kind of advertising is dangerous for workers since they are more likely to be exploited if the employer believes they have “bought” them. The Indonesian government doesn’t seem to be taking a serious stance on these kinds of advertisements either. One ad in 2012 offered migrant workers for 40 percent off and the government didn’t respond at all when called on by Indonesian workers.
Other migrant countries are advertised as well, but not as often. The Philippine government formally objected to advertisements involving Filipino workers. Despite being the only case of government intervention, the ad was directly pulled from circulation.
Indonesian maids aren’t the only ones who face the dangers of human trafficking. Oftentimes foreign workers are promised a certain paycheck before they move to the country they plan to work in. After they arrive, however, salaries differ and their employers often force them to sign their promised paycheck, then refuse them the money altogether.
Besides a lack of pay, many workers are abused at the hands of their employers, such as in Hong Kong. When they ask for their full wages or want to leave, many are beaten and threatened with their lives.
With smaller wages and the constant threat of abuse, many workers soon find themselves broke and stuck in the country that promised to pay them a living wage. Workers have few options, as employers often fabricate stories of theft or misconduct to ruin workers’ reputations. Even though workers are supposed to have a job contract and employer’s address secured before they leave for Singapore or their employer’s home country, the employer can often send them anywhere, without a passport or knowledge of the language.
With the marketing campaign, abuse, and labor trafficking currently happening across Singapore, Hong Kong, and surrounding nations, it is clear that this is modern slavery. These countries need to work together to stop the exploitation of impoverished men and women worldwide.
Featured Image by kfcatles on Flickr.