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Blogs and Opinion Reaction: UK’s richest family on trial for human trafficking

Reaction: UK’s richest family on trial for human trafficking

Modern slavery must remain on the political agenda at this UK election, Hope for Justice’s policy and programmes experts have insisted. It comes as the UK’s richest family are on trial in Switzerland for human trafficking and exploitation.  

The charges against the Hinduja family relate to their practice of importing servants from India to look after their children and household, the BBC reports. Prakash and Kamal Hinduja, together with their son Ajay and his wife Namrata, allegedly confiscated staff passports, paid them a measly $8 (£7) for 18-hour days, and limited their freedom.  

A financial settlement was reached last week relating to the exploitation charges. But the Hindujas remain on trial for human trafficking. They deny the charges. 

The news story was published just two days after International Domestic Workers Day, with the IDWF calling on governments across the world to ratify ILO Convention no. 189. This grants domestic workers the same rights as other workers. For example, it sets a minimum age for domestic workers, it requires members to ensure that domestic workers enjoy fair terms of employment and decent working conditions, and charges governments with protecting workers against abusive practices. 

Below, Hope for Justice’s programmes and policy teams speak into the issues of domestic work, the UK’s restrictive visa schemes and their impact on overseas workers, and keeping modern slavery on the agenda. 

International Domestic Workers Day

Just this week, renewed calls have been made for domestic workers across the world to be recognised as care workers, and to receive workers’ rights. To mark International Domestic Workers Day (16th June) the IDWF is calling for governments to ratify the ILO Convention no. 189, the Domestic Workers Convention, which would guarantee domestic workers the minimum labour protections afforded to other workers (in most countries, domestic workers are afforded little or no protections that other workers would have).

The adoption of this convention would also eliminate forced labour and child labour within a domestic context. Hope for Justice strongly agrees that governments should implement this convention, particularly as many of our beneficiaries in Uganda and Ethiopia are survivors of child labour in a domestic context. There has been strong advocacy from organisations, particularly in Ethiopia, to adopt the convention. The ILO Convention no. 189 has not yet been adopted in the UK, US, Ethiopia or Uganda. Switzerland is one of only a handful of EU countries to have implemented it.    

Overseas domestic workers in the UK

The UK Government first privatised company tied visas in 2012, which prevents overseas domestic workers from changing the employer they arrived with. Under UK law, then, migrant domestic workers on these visas are prevented from leaving employers who abuse and exploit them. These new rules have been shown to make workers more vulnerable to modern slavery.  

New evidence finds there has been a dramatic increase in the exploitation of domestic workers in the UK since changes were made to restrict the terms of the Overseas Domestic Worker visa in 2012.  

UK charity Kalayaan, which offers advice, advocacy and support services to migrant domestic workers, published the figures on International Domestic Workers Day.  

The charity described the evidence as ‘damning’. Their report says: “[The evidence…demonstrates that instances of abuse rose significantly following changes to the visa made in 2012 which restricted the ability of workers to change employers without restriction. Further changes to the visa terms introduced in 2016 have made little difference.”  

Figures published in Kalayaan’s report found that 14% of workers issued a visa prior to 6 April 2012 presented with indicators of trafficking. This rose to 40% of the workers issued a visa after 6 April 2012 and 41% of the workers issued a visa after 6 April 2016.  

The figures are based on reports by 2,080 workers who registered with the charity between 2008 and 2024.  

Other data highlighted in the report includes:  

  • 47% of workers issued a visa prior to 6 April 2012 did not have access to their passport in the UK. This rose to 73% of workers issued a visa after 6 April 2012 and 6 April 2016 respectively  
  • 47% of workers issued a visa prior to 6 April 2012 were not allowed out of their employer’s property alone, compared with 69% of workers issued a visa after 6 April 2012 and 6 April 2016 respectively  
  • 17% of workers issued a visa prior to 6 April 2012 were receiving irregular food. This rose to 42% of workers issued a visa after 6 April 2012 and 61% of workers issued a visa after 6 April 2016.  
  • Physical abuse was reported in 12% of cases where workers were issued a visa prior to 6 April 2012, compared with 20% for workers issued a visa after 6 April 2012 and 26% issued a visa after 6 April 2016.   

For further insights, see the full Kalayaan report here.

Restrictive visa schemes increase the risk of exploitation

When the UK exited the European Union, the Government introduced temporary visa schemes as part of its reforms to the immigration system.  

Changes to UK law since 2012, which have come to be known as ‘hostile environment’ policies, have reduced migrant workers’ access to rights and protections.  

For example, restrictions on the type of work that international students can do, plus rules around when they can work (not during term-time) and how long for (only working a maximum of 20 hours per week), are pushing them into lower paid and more hazardous work. Some are left with no choice but to work illegally, outside the requirements of their visa, to make ends meet.  

Additionally, the UK Home Office now has the power to revoke sponsorship visa licenses. This would make all those who are sponsored by a particular visa ineligible, creating an influx of undocumented workers. Under current laws, the government only allows workers 60 days to find a new sponsor, to apply for another visa category or to leave the UK, which creates vulnerability to exploitation.  

Furthermore, a recent report by the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre revealed the vulnerabilities faced by migrant workers in the agriculture and care sectors in the UK. It highlights how the UK’s Seasonal Worker Visa (SWV) for agriculture and the Skilled Health & Care Worker Visa (H&CWV) schemes create a situation of ‘hyper-precarity’ for migrant workers.  

Short visa durations and the threat of becoming undocumented were found to exacerbate the risk of exploitation and modern slavery practices.  

Workers also reported wage deductions for travel and accommodation costs, and a lack of information about their contractual rights.  

Recommendations made in the report include amending visa schemes to allow for more employer mobility and enabling visa extensions for those seeking legal advice or redress.  

Hope for Justice believes that, to prevent further harm to migrant workers, we need to end the use of these restrictive visas. By tying an individual’s immigration status to their employer, it gives that employer greater control and makes it harder for the worker to complain about exploitation or abuse.  

We need to look at putting safeguarding at the heart of our response, and to provide survivors with the stability and support they need to secure justice. This ranges from secure immigration status to safe accommodation, education and compensation. These measures are essential to provide survivors with the foundations they require for their recovery.

Hinduja family on trial for human trafficking

Domestic servitude is one of the most clandestine and under-reported forms of modern slavery, owing to its private residential setting, making it difficult to tackle.    

Domestic servitude typically involves victims working in a private family home. They may appear to be nannies, care workers or carrying out other domestic help, but if they are prevented from leaving a property of their own free will, it becomes exploitative. Victims may be ill-treated, humiliated, subjected to unbearable conditions or working hours and made to work for little or no pay. Often, these individuals do not speak the language of the country they are in, which can leave them trapped and unsure where to turn for help.    

Traffickers and criminals are making an estimated $2.6 billion in illegal profits every year from adults and children trapped in domestic work.     

Survivors in these exploitative situations often face a loss of earnings. Child domestic workers may also lose access to their education and fall behind in their studies, placing them at a disadvantage.     

Survivors face immense challenges, even after leaving exploitation. They may face barriers to accessing healthcare, mental health support, education, civil justice or compensation, to name a few.

Hope for Justice calls for UK Government to keep modern slavery on the agenda

This global issue is far from resolved. And it needs a renewed, united response from all governments.  

We need to ensure that tackling modern slavery stays on the political agenda this election, and that we adopt a holistic approach.  

In keeping with the principles agreed by more than 60 anti-trafficking NGOs, Hope for Justice has made several recommendations for the future UK government – actions that they should take in their first 100 days. You can read our recommendations here.