Foreign maids, mostly from Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, are working in slave conditions in Hong Kong, a UN-backed group was told yesterday.
In a report by a coalition of 11 domestic helpers' groups, a hearing under the UN's Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women was told that maids suffer "systematic practices of forced labor and debt bondage."
The report, presented at a hearing in New York, is based on research done by the University of Hong Kong's Center for Comparative and Public Law that involved in-depth interviews with 22 foreign domestic helpers.
Co-author of the research Peggy Lee Woon-yee said: "The government has not actually prevented forced labor and debt bondage because these are going on all the time. They have failed to do any effective action to curb it."
The Asian Migrants Co-ordinating Body said Indonesians had been "compelled to pay placement fees ranging from HK$6,000 to HK$21,000 (US$769 to US$2,692)" to employment agencies who often disguise the fees as loans.
The agencies then tell the maids' employers to divert most of the monthly salary to a finance company or agent.
With Indonesian domestic helpers paid below the mandatory minimum wage of HK$3,400 a month, some were left "with little or no salary for three to seven months," the migrants body said.
The coalition's report said it should be a criminal offence for an employer to pay any portion of the worker's salary to a third party.
There are about 130,000 foreign domestic helpers working in Hong Kong.