The Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS) has published its latest report, Behind Closed Doors: Experiences of Latin American Domestic Workers in the UK.  



This research, made possible by funding from Trust for London, draws from 12 in-depth interviews with Latin American victims and survivors of domestic servitude. This study outlines the characteristics of the sector, highlighting the high levels of isolation, exploitation and abuse that are endemic within it, and looks into the specific ways these affect women workers in the Latin American community.

Latin American women are overrepresented in domestic work in the UK, a highly feminised and unregulated sector where work is seen as unproductive and unskilled, and where the workforce is virtually invisible. Many of the women we interviewed were exposed to experiences that amount to domestic servitude.

Some of our key findings were:

  • 83% of women were not provided with written contracts throughout their employment and 92% were not provided with payslips.
  • All women experienced breaches of verbal agreements.
  • 83% were expected to perform different tasks to what was agreed during recruitment. At least 58% were hired as either cleaners/housekeepers or carers but were expected to perform both tasks.
  • All participants experienced an increase to their working hours, leading to little to no time off.
  • 10 out of 12 participants worked at least 12 hours per day, the longest working day being 17 hours per day.
  • 70% of participants did not have a paid holiday.
  • At least 58% were not registered with a GP. 
  • At least one participant experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.
  • 58% experienced mistreatment, including verbal or physical abuse, and threats.
  • At least 25% were tracked or surveilled by their employers, including when they were not working.
  • All participants felt they did not have the option of changing their working conditions.
  • All participants related signs of isolation and an inability or fear of seeking help.
  • 50% of the participants were victims of trafficking for labour exploitation.

The difficulties in identifying exploitation and abuse in the sector, coupled with a lack of options and understanding of how to access support by workers, lead many women to remain in these conditions for long periods of time.

Adding to their vulnerability, migrant domestic workers in the UK are exempt from essential labour rights and are subjected to an anti-migrant rhetoric and environment that creates fear and anxiety over their immigration status, regardless of their situation.

Crucially, traffickers and exploiters benefit from this system that allows them to use workers’ anxiety over immigration status as an effective form of control and coercion, all the while knowing that they will not face any consequences for their actions.

The disregard for the working conditions of migrant domestic workers goes against the UK’s goal to end modern slavery, and there is much that the government can do to ensure that workers are treated fairly and do not fall into exploitation. Read our report here to see our recommendations.

“When I was told that I had to be available, I did not imagine that this included my days off […] I did not imagine late nights. ‘Available’ means I am there, in the house. I will be living in the house so I could, if she needed something, be available. But not 24/7. So I accepted, but I never thought that things would change later.”