Inside One Foundation's Fight Against Forced Labour And Debt Bondage Among Domestic Workers
In the What Matters To Me series, a Generation T honouree describes what they do, why they do it, and why it matters
Almost ten million people work in domestic roles in Asia-Pacific, according to the International Labour Organisation, yet forced labour and debt bondage run rampant in the domestic worker community. Limited recruitment options abroad mean jobs outside the workers’ home country often come with extortionate recruitment fees.
“The recruitment system is broken,” says Scott Stiles, the founder of the Fair Employment Foundation. After realising the problems the industry faces, Stiles decided to take action. He teamed up with Tammy Baltz, a volunteer with the Hong Kong NGO Help for Domestic Workers, to eliminate recruitment fees and transfer the job placement fee from the domestic worker to their employer. Since the foundation began in 2014, it has seen recruitment fees in the city drop from US$2,000 (HK$15,500) to US$700 (HK$5,425) in 2020, and Stiles predicts fees will disappear within five years.
Our Fair Hiring Pledge programme educates employers [of domestic workers] about hiring and ethical management within their home. After one of our first sessions, there was a woman who told me: “I had 16 domestic workers before one actually finished their whole contract, but after sitting through that session, I realise that actually, I was using unethical agencies whose incentives were not to find me a good worker, and I think that I wasn’t doing a very good job at managing.” She had a negative perception of the [domestic worker] community that was changed by our session.
Hopefully 20 years from now, debt bondage won’t exist anywhere in the world. We think that’s possible. We want to expand throughout Asia through partnerships. We believe that local people are going to be better voices for this problem in general, and we want to make sure that we’re providing them with every opportunity to be successful.
The realistic future is that there are still a lot of problems. But there’s a lot to be optimistic about
— Scott Stiles
We would love to see more people following our [Fair Employment Foundation] model, because it’s great to have done something that can help a lot of people, but we want to make it something that becomes the standard for millions of migrant workers across Asia. When we do see that, we will also see improved treatment by employers and better conditions.
The realistic future is that there are still a lot of problems. But there’s a lot to be optimistic about. With Asia’s ageing population, the need for domestic work isn’t going to go away anytime soon. Governments are getting more concerned about how to properly execute elderly caregiving at scale, and how they can make their country appealing for the most talented migrant workers. So, when we look at the next two decades, conditions will be improved across the board for migrant workers. But there needs to be a real push to make it happen.
See honourees from the Social Entrepreneurship category of the Gen.T List 2019.