Forced Labor

Published on Author inglism17

Hong Kong, the previously British colony located in southeastern China, has a shockingly high percentage of domestic workers that are being forced into labor. The Justice Centre Hong Kong (JCHK) recently conducted a survey that found 17% are engaged in forced labor. That is more than one out of every six.

Women working in a factory

The JCHK defines forced labor: “As per the ILO guidelines, an individual is counted as being in forced labour if they are experiencing both involuntariness and menace of penalty in any one of these three dimensions of forced labour: unfree recruitment, work and life under duress and impossibility of leaving.” The organization goes on to note that recent events inspired the survey. One possible example: a worker in Masanjia, China managed to smuggle a letter explaining the labor situation into a product, which reached a consumer in Oregon (Jacobs).

The JCHK’s findings echo the Masanjia worker’s conditions: “Close to 72% were paid less than the minimum wage of $529.58 (HK$4,110) a month” (Zheng). Forced laborers are consistently underpaid and undervalued. They are not given proper working or living conditions. The JCHK continues with the fact that “nearly 40% do not have their own room and 35.2% share a room with a child or elder person” (Zheng). And this aspect is in addition to other abusive conditions felt by many. One Indonesian maid in China was raped by her employer’s brother-in-law, but she had nowhere to turn (Price).

These employees are forced. Their passports are often taken upon arrival, and debts are incurred during training. These people looking for opportunity to help their families are facing seriously dark times, restricted to long hours and little pay. The JCHK’s survey and findings will hopefully incite some change at the governmental level. Regulations can be set, but they must be truly enforced. If China wants to be more developed, it’ll have to get rid of these injustices by holding all citizens and companies accountable.


Works Cited:

“Coming Clean: The Prevalence of Forced Labour and Human Trafficking for the Purpose of Forced Labour amongst Migrant Domestic Workers in Hong Kong.” The Justice Centre Hong Kong. Web. 20 Mar. 2016. <>.
Jacobs, Andrew. “Behind Cry for Help From China Labor Camp.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 11 June 2013. Web. 20 Mar. 2016. <>.
Price, Deb, Chester Yung, and Sara Schonardt. “A Maid’s Fight for Justice.” WSJ. Wall Street Journal, 13 Oct. 2014. Web. 20 Mar. 2016. <>.
Zheng, Anjie. “17% of Hong Kong’s Domestic Workers Are Engaged in Forced Labor, Study Says.” China Real Time Report RSS. Wall Street Journal, 15 Mar. 2016. Web. 20 Mar. 2016. <>.


9 Responses to Forced Labor

  1. The high rate of forced labor and human trafficking in China comes as no surprise. Human traffickers often take advantage of poor recent immigrants who have few connections and are easily preyed upon. In China, there is a bountiful supply of such individuals. The massive migration towards the city has left many poor farmers vulnerable to exploitation. In addition, immigrants from impoverished bordering countries such as Burma, Singapore, Vietnam, Laos, Mongolia, and North Korea are easy targets for human traffickers.

  2. We have plenty of abuses in the US, it’s very dangerous to be an illegal immigrant without really good fake papers because you become subject to the same sorts of abuses.

    HK is particularly high in using domestic help from the Philippines, because lots of Chinese speak English, or at least want their children to be exposed to English, and the Philippines is the only developing country in Southeast Asia where it’s the dominant language and yet the local economy poor enough to generate migrants. I’ve been around one particular district in HK on Sunday, the day that these maids get off (in part because the majority are Catholics, and most of the rest Christian). You can find women eating snacks on blankets, each little grouping from a different village; my wife found the group from her hometown, about a dozen women from there and two surrounding small towns in Ilocos Norte. I’m pretty sure you can find sources on that.

    Being poor sucks. It makes you vulnerable in many ways.

  3. It seems that another key issue with migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong is the nature of their work. Because domestic work takes place in private household and behind closed doors, it’s more difficult for the government to regulate hours and pay than for more public jobs. Furthermore, rules requiring domestic help living in the city to live with the family they work for further confuses home and work for these domestic workers.

    • What’s worse is that if a migrant domestic worker loses his or her job, he or she also loses a place to live. The lines may be blurred, like you mention, between workplace and home, but at least they have a place to sleep. However, one could make the argument that the conditions behind closed doors are worse than having to fend for oneself on the streets.

  4. This does not seem too much different from the experiences of some migrant workers without hukou in their new cities. With gross labor surpluses in the worst rural villages, pay is terribly low. Their condition is so bad that non-hukou city life–a life without social benefits and defined by low pay and mistreatment–at least appeared to be better. Whether non-hukou city life was better than farm life varied from case to case, but one thing was certain: once a migrant was in the city, it was easy for employers to take advantage of them. Both hukou reform and movement towards the Lewis Tipping Point is slowly changing the fate of non-hukou migrants, but their historic condition since China’s initial boom in manufacturing seems similar to the treatment of forced labor today.

  5. Being poor definitely sucks. Even JCHK reported so many labor abusing cases, labors’ situations are still much better than where they came from. It’s hard for people from developed country to imagine living in this poor condition. However, being able to eat snacks as meals is already good enough for many poor people. Comparing to never having chance to live in the country or never have sufficient food and water, I think lower wages actually can not be considered as abusing but an increase in job demand.

  6. Forced labor is caused by the huge gap between the rich and poor. Some of these people knew what the living conditions are before they come, but they still chose to do so for the money. Some did not even know about it before they come. I think new regimes should be proposed to solve this problem at least within the mainland China. For example, there should be fewer restrictions on Hukou system. Migrants should have the rights to access to education, health care, and residency. Therefore, when they encounter horrible working conditions, they can report to the police or go to the hospital without worrying about being sent back home.

    • Can cities afford to give migrants access to these things (education, health care, residency, etc.) though? Many urban areas already deal with problems of overcrowding and the drawing down of communal resources at rapid rates. The point of the system is to deter further migration. If the costs for prospective migrants are greater, then they are less likely to migrate. Even without the incentives, the number of migrants is higher than the cities would like. Thus, think of the greater number of them should they be given increased rights.

      • In the past, the Hukou system has restricted legal registration for children born who violate the one child policy. Thus, these unregistered children were susceptible to human trafficking. This particularly effected females, as the one child policy created a son preference. However, the recent amendments to the one child policy seek to close this gender gap. It will be interesting to see if this will have a positive impact on reducing human trafficking, as well.