The exploitation of domestic workers in diplomatic households appears to be largely tied to officials from the Middle East, where labor abuses and modern slavery are well documented.
Last year, the Telegraph revealed that women from Malawi were tricked into traveling to Oman, only to be imprisoned as modern-day slaves in the households of their wealthy employers.
Former cabinet minister David Davis said representatives from the Middle East should not be allowed to recreate the “oppressive conditions” of their own countries within diplomatic households in Britain, adding: “These individuals should obey British laws.”
Diwa, a mother of one and former worker who was brought to the UK by a Saudi Arabian diplomat in 2018, described to the Telegraph how she lived as a prisoner in a house in West London.
She spent three months in his job but was never paid and would “only eat leftovers from the family”, adding: “I couldn’t eat if they weren’t there.”
Diwa could not go out on her own and had her passport confiscated by the diplomat on her arrival in the UK. She would divide her time between the official house and a property of his relative. On several occasions, she was expected to clean both houses on the same day.
“I was angry and sad. Half the time I ended up crying,” said Diwa. “I was just exhausted and couldn’t bear the idea of going on, so I found my passport and finally left.”
‘They took away my passport’
Eleanor, who comes from Indonesia, tells a similar story. She first arrived in the UK with a South East Asian diplomat in 2016 and remembers being woken up at 1am by her employer on one of her first nights on the job.
“He came into the room and told me to unpack his shopping,” she said. “From that point I started to think that maybe this is not a normal way to work.”
In the month before she ran away, Eleanor was forced to work seven days a week and not leave the property, denied access to a working mobile phone, stripped of her passport, and doused herself with cold water the one bucket.
“I would wake up at 5.30 am and the first thing would be to clean the car and then the [four-storey] house,” she said. “Sometimes there were a lot of guests coming to the house, so I would go on until 10 p.m. or even midnight.
“I wasn’t allowed to leave the house or use the wifi. They took away my passport. They didn’t pay me my salary. And there was no heating in my room or hot water when the boss turned it off. It was winter so I had to boil water in a kettle, pour it into a bucket and clean myself that way.
“I was exhausted. I would go hours without eating so I was often very hungry. From the time I left Indonesia until I ran away, I lost five kilos.
Terrified and trapped, Eleanor eventually called the Indonesian embassy, who told her “many people were in this situation” and that they had successfully escaped. She soon followed, taking her chance to escape when her diplomat left the house to pick up his children.
Both Diwa and Eleanor were eventually inducted into the NRM and now live independently in London, where they work and continue to send money to their families in Southeast Asia.
Their experiences are common to men and women who have been supported by Kalayaan over the years, the charity said, adding that many go unpaid during their working hours in London – despite regularly working from 6am to midnight for weeks at a time.
Every year up to 17,000 vulnerable domestic workers, many from Asia and Africa, travel to Britain with their employers, according to a government commission into the exploitation of migrant workers published in 2015.
However, not all leave the UK when their work permit runs out. In the year ending March 2020, some 15,828 visas expired for foreign domestic workers, government data show. But in almost 10 percent of the cases (1,280) the Home Office could not establish whether these workers had left the country.
James Ewins QC, who led the government’s 2015 review, said ministers were turning a blind eye to abusive labor practices occurring in the homes of diplomats and wealthy foreign nationals.
“I don’t think the government is taking this issue seriously… They want these rich families to come to the UK for political reasons and economic reasons,” he said, adding that the majority of individuals who take on their own staff , coming from the Middle East. .
“These employers think ‘I don’t have to obey the law’… [their homes] are places where English law does not apply. There is a vacuum.”