Domestic slavery

By Rosa Mas Giralt

In one of Area’s issues in 2002, Cox and Watt published an article exploring paid domestic work in London’s informal economy. The authors considered how these unofficial low-paid jobs contributed to expanding the number of people working in the lower end of this employment market, therefore supporting Sassen’s (1991) thesis regarding global cities and their increasingly polarized economies. In presenting their research, the authors reported on the importance that these types of jobs had as strategies of survival for disadvantaged groups such as workers who, due to their family circumstances or migrant status were not able to access formal employment. Some of the most vulnerable women trying to make a living in this informal economy were overseas domestic workers who had been brought to the UK by their employers. Importantly, Cox and Watt (2002, 41) make reference to Anderson’s work in highlighting the situation of these overseas workers, which she published in a book in 1993 with the resonant title Britain’s secret slaves: an investigation into the plight of overseas domestic workers.

Unfortunately, in 2010, the plight of these workers continues unaddressed. The Guardian recently published a report by Homa Khaleeli which denounces the situation of hundreds of women who every year come to the UK as domestic workers. As the article explains, these women are in extremely vulnerable positions as they are completely dependent on their employers for their visa entitlement (they are not allowed to change employers), work and housing. Behind closed doors and without anyone to turn to, many of them are abused (forced to work for long hours and without days off) and virtually enslaved when the wages they were promised fail to materialize (as family workers they are exempt from the minimum wage entitlements). Importantly, the charity Anti Slavery UK is campaigning for the rights of these workers to be recognized so they can be guaranteed the same protection as others. 

 Read R. Cox and P. Watt (2002) “Globalization, polarization and the informal sector: the case of paid domestic workers in London”. Area. 34(1): 39-47.

 Read Homa Khaleeli’s report “How domestic workers become slaves” on The Guardian website.

 Visit Anti Slavery’s website

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