December 10, 2021, by aczjb1

How do we reduce domestic servitude risk in the developed world?

For Human Rights Day 2021, Dr Caroline Emberson asks: How do we reduce domestic servitude risk in the developed world?

According to estimates from the Global Slavery Index, 3.84 million domestic workers worldwide find themselves forced to work against their will in domestic servitude. In this study, the first of its kind, I have been investigating governments’ response to this risk among those who provide care for others in their own homes. As an important home care funder, national policymakers and local government procurers have the potential to play a significant role in addressing problems of servitude. My research asks what can we learn about the administration and delivery of publicly funded homecare that will help us to reduce the risk of domestic servitude in the developed world?

The study, which is funded by the University of Nottingham under its Nottingham Research Fellowship scheme, addresses this question by using a case study design to investigate the approaches taken by local authorities to the prevention, detection, and remediation of domestic servitude risk in countries across Europe, Australia, and Canada. Online research interviews have already been conducted with representatives from care workers’ organisations, employer groups, unions and local government in France, Italy, Sweden, and the Netherlands. The findings will help academics, policy makers and practitioners in local and national government in these and other countries to learn from the approaches taken in other national contexts as they seek to develop their own policies and administrative capabilities. Importantly, it will also throw light on which of these techniques might reduce the wider risk of domestic servitude in other countries and settings.

I hope that, through a better understanding of the approaches that have been developed, the context in which they have been adopted, and the characteristics which underlie them, other developed countries will engage in appropriate practices to reduce the prevalence of slavery-like conditions in their societies.

My research shows that four distinct groups of people paid to provide home-based care in Europe may find themselves at risk from domestic servitude:

  • family care givers
  • migrant care workers employed directly as personal assistants by private individuals
  • migrant care workers introduced to potential care recipients by unregulated care agencies and employed under ‘direct payment’ cash for care schemes
  • migrant family care givers, who travel with the support of unregulated labour agencies and access benefits to provide care for other family members, particularly children, and who may be coerced and defrauded of their benefits by predatory agencies.

Local authorities have developed different techniques that may help reduce these problems. These range from whistleblowing, worker professionalisation, an expansion in the risk detection capabilities of front-line municipal employees to sophisticated, inter-agency, data analytics. Which approach is adopted seems to relate to pre-existing national public, social care, policy frameworks.

Dr Alexander Trautrims, Associate Director of the University of Nottingham’s Rights Lab Beacon of Excellence said, “Homes as places of work have so far been insufficiently addressed in government response mechanisms against modern slavery. This study is the first of its kind to understand how the underlying setup of care systems impacts domestic servitude risk in the developed world.”

An international symposium for research partners and other interested parties is planned. If you are interested in participating, please contact Dr Caroline Emberson at Further details about the project can be found on the  Rights Lab website page: The research project is expected to conclude in Autumn 2023.

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