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Modern slavery is a major global issue today, with particular relevance in the Asian region. Victims of modern slavery are often hidden, which is especially the case for domestic workers who live and work in the privacy of their employer’s homes. There are many potential victims among the millions of women across the region – mainly from Indonesia and the Philippines – who are leaving behind their homes and families to work abroad in destinations like Hong Kong and Singapore.


What is difficult to see is even more difficult to measure. Without measuring the prevalence of exploitative practices, mapping where it occurs, and gaining a comprehensive understanding of the practices that lead to modern slavery, little can be done to address it. This research focused on collecting quantitative data to show the prevalence of indicators associated with modern slavery amongst domestic workers.


Modern slavery is not just a human rights issue. It is a transnational, economic and social issue that has implications for the development of emerging economies and their human capital. Promoting change has the potential to resolve harmful problems being faced by migrant domestic workers.


Modern slavery is prevalent among the millions of migrant domestic workers in East and Southeast Asia. The main source countries are Indonesia (4,875,000) and the Philippines. The main destinations include Hong Kong (330.000), Malaysia (180.000) Singapore (222.000), and Taiwan (210,000, 80% from Indonesia).

Our research design has a strong focus on the migrant perspective and draws on experiences throughout the migration process (see full report here). Surveying took place during seven months of over 4,000 respondents in four countries – Hong Kong, Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore. In each country, comparable, comprehensive questionnaires were used to determine who counts as a potential victim, aiming to establish:

1. the prevalence rates of modern slavery

2. the key problems and issues at all stages of migration and

3. the migrant perspective on solutions.

Description of modern slavery

The concepts of forced labour, human trafficking and slavery are closely related. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) – the international authority on labour and human rights issues – the umbrella term modern slavery should be used. For research purposes, the ILO published a new statistical methodology in 2012 to estimate forced labour globally. This research has used this methodology. The operational definition of forced labour is as follows: Forced labor of adults is defined as work for which a person has not offered him or herself voluntarily and which is performed under the menace of any penalty applied by an employer or a third party to the worker. The coercion may take place during the worker’s recruitment process to force him or her to accept the job or, once the person is working, to force him/her to do tasks that were not part of what was agreed at the time of recruitment or to prevent him/her from leaving the job.