scroll down

Make recruitment ethical

Addressing exploitation from the earliest phases of migration has the potential to yield outsized gains during and after migration experiences. Stakeholders could aim to: 


Enforce existing laws

  • Government actors must enforce laws aimed at unethical recruitment, including proper penalties for recruitment agencies which flout them.


Introduce new legislation in line with global standards

  • Governments should legislate to eliminate recruitment debt and fees, expand the conditions under which workers can switch employers, and (in Singapore) eliminate the SGD 5,000 security bond system, which would enable more workers to ‘vote with their feet’ and shun abusive situations.


Incentivise ethical practices

  • Donors should support ethical recruitment agencies that implement best-practice guidance, such as the Dhaka Principles.   


Hold recruitment agencies accountable

  • Employers need to put pressure on recruitment agencies to not charge fees or deceive workers. 

Help workers prepare

Migrant labourers must be equipped with the right information to better understand their rights and make decisions that reduce their vulnerability. Stakeholders could aim to: 


Make information accessible

  • Information should be delivered by trusted sources and be relevant for the individual worker. 
  • Language training can help ensure that the information is more accessible in host countries. 
  • Training on longer-term career planning before deployment could help workers to strategise.


Open contracts to public scrutiny

  • A mechanism could be developed to allow the worker to share their contract anonymously on an electronic platform for feedback and advice. 
  • Hong Kong and Singapore’s excellence in technology offers an excellent opportunity to pilot this.

Improve support for workers during employment

A combination of stigma and lack of assurance has prevented workers from reaching out to social networks or support. Additionally, we find the common assumption that female migrant workers will accumulate enough wealth to elevate their economic position at home to be false. In light of this, stakeholders could aim to:


Address stigma by changing attitudes

  • Donors could sponsor the development of a network of more aware and trained women in origin and destination countries who support other workers. 
  • Social media could be used to connect with women in Hong Kong and Singapore, with a focus on identifying and offering support to those who seem isolated.


Support workers in planning for their financial futures 

  • Many workers are spending their prime years of career and skills growth contributing cheap labour to a foreign economy and bolstering family consumption in their country of origin, with limited impact on household savings or investment. 
  • Training and education could allow them to step out of the overseas domestic worker market before they start feeling trapped in it. 


Help workers access financial products 

  • Research suggests savings, remittance and investment plans, opened early, can be beneficial.

Make programmes for returning migrants more relevant

Financial assistance and job placement are deemed to be the most important support mechanisms a migrant worker can access after their return. However, programming should be sensitive to the needs of individual workers, including survivors of abuse. Stakeholders could: 


Adapt programming to realities at home 

  • It is important to understand the benchmarks for financial planning, career planning or “reintegration” activities. For example, a worker with children in her 30s may not aspire to seek full-time formal employment; for her, employment-focused “reintegration” programmes would not be appropriate. 


Screen effectively to make sure workers are included in appropriate programmes on return

  • Some survivors of abuse may benefit from participating immediately in “mainstream” reintegration activities. Many will not. For example, many respondents told us they would not speak with their families or relatives about problems abroad, suggesting stigma may also affect their participation in certain programmes.


Offer assistance to deal with trauma

  • Respondents who experienced abuse believe that counselling and psychological assistance could be improved during the return process. 

Implement market-friendly protections in Hong Kong and Singapore

Hong Kong and Singapore’s Efficiency and pragmatism offer opportunities to enhance the migrant domestic worker market in ways that benefit workers, Hong Kong and Singapore.



For workers, expand the conditions under which workers can switch employers beyond physical abuse to include:

  • restriction of movement or communication; 
  • verbal abuse; 
  • overwork; 
  • food deprivation; 
  • or unacceptable accommodation. 

Note: This is not simply a humanitarian consideration – it is also good market regulation to empower workers to go wherever their labour will be used most efficiently. A verbally abused, food-deprived, tired migrant domestic worker is not going to work well and will raise costs for the industry in the medium term.

If you have questions or feedback on this report, please get in touch with us.