Former domestic worker exploited in France rebuilds life

Speaking to VICE News this week, former domestic worker Inès shared her experiences of servitude in France where she thought she would be able to pursue an education.

Trained as a nail technician in a French-speaking African country., Inès had aspirations of moving abroad to continue her education. Her boss suggested she move to France where she could stay with his sister. Once there, Inès quickly realized she had been lied to.

Coerced into domestic servitude

Inès explained how her boss’s sister trapped her: “She told me she was going back to work after her maternity leave and that I would have to look after the kids,” Inès said. “I told her, ‘No problem, auntie.’ I thought it made sense to give something back.”

But instead of being able to pursue her goals, Inès was forced to work almost 24 hours a day with little sleep and barely any food. She was made to look after small children, clean the cramped flat, cook and maintain the household while enduring verbal and physical abuse.

VICE News reports:

Once, she was caught eating in the kitchen after serving the meal and was told she wasn’t allowed to have food; she’d have to eat the scraps after everyone was finished. Often, she’d make do with bits of rice and chicken leftover on the children’s plates. She quickly lost weight and was often dizzy.

Seeking help

After collapsing in the elevator, the building’s janitor found Inès and offered her food and money to support her to leave her terrible conditions. Inès eventually made the decision to reach out to Comité Contre l’Esclavage Moderne (the Committee Against Modern Slavery), an organization supporting modern slavery victims.

One day, when the older brother [of the family] was at home, I left the baby in his crib, pretended I was taking down the rubbish and fled,” she said. The family did not let her go without protest. A few hours later, her “auntie” began calling her incessantly. “In her voice messages, she told me that I didn’t know Paris, that I’d get raped or attacked,” she recalled.

What Inès experienced happens far too often in countries around the world. People migrating are deceived by false job offers and unscrupulous employers who extract their labor under threat, preventing contact with their families, and withholding their wages. Physical punishment, as well as sexual abuse, is not uncommon in domestic servitude and the isolated nature of the work means that victims can go unseen for years.

Zita Cabais-Obra, a former domestic worker from the Philippines, was also trafficked into servitude in Paris. Cabais-Obra paid a recruiter 2,000 euros to find her a job in France as a cleaner. On her arrival, the wealthy couple she was placed with confiscated her passport, prevented her from using the phone, and refused to submit a residency application on her behalf.

Cabais-Obra managed to flee her exploitative employers and today works to support others like Inès who are in similar situations.

An international standard to protect domestic workers

France has yet to ratify the ILO Domestic Workers Convention (C189), a global standard to protect domestic workers. C189 sets out measures for government to follow to better protect them from exploitation and abuse. To date, 35 countries have already signed on however momentum has slowed since it was introduced in 2011. We need to keep pushing our governments to act!

Has your country taken action? Take a look here and sign the petition today.

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