Kawogo v the United Kingdom

Forum: European Court of Human Rights
INTERIGHTS role: Third party interveners
Keywords: Migrant domestic workers, trafficking, vulnerability, gender issues, positive obligations on states to protect

On 24 November 2010 INTERIGHTS submitted a brief as third party interveners before the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Kawogo v the United Kingdom. The case provides the Court with an opportunity to consider the nature and extent of states’ positive obligations to provide equal and effective protection to migrant domestic workers, a particularly vulnerable group, from abuse and exploitation.

The applicant is a Tanzanian national who came to the UK in 2006 with her employer, on a domestic worker visa. Her employer claimed she was having an operation and would stay in the UK for three months. According to the terms of the domestic worker visa the applicant was to work for her employer and then return with her to Tanzania. The visa also required that proper employment conditions be observed. The employer did not have an operation and returned to Tanzania leaving the applicant in the UK with the employer’s parents. She was told that in order to return home she would have to work for one year in order to offset the cost of her flight. The applicant’s passport was taken from her and she was subjected to forced labour. The applicant eventually escaped and her lawyer reported her situation to the police. A decision was taken by the authorities not to prosecute the employer’s parents on the basis that there was insufficient evidence. No action was taken against the employer. The applicant argues that she was subject to forced labour which the authorities failed to adequately investigate and prosecute as a criminal offence and in respect of which they failed to provide adequate penalties. She also complains there was no effective remedy available to her.

The exploitation of migrant domestic workers is rife throughout Europe. They have a distinct labour relationship with their employer and are dependent on them for their accommodation and their work. They may also depend on their employer’s goodwill in relation to their immigration status. They often have no local network of support and are isolated in the house of their employer with no access to trade unions or other independent assistance. They often do not speak the language of their country of residence. They may also have their movement restricted to the extent they have to rely on their employer for any information about their rights. The totality of the circumstances in which migrant domestic workers often find themselves – forced confinement, restricted communication, abuse, imposition of unreasonable debt, and work under duress — amount to situations of forced labour.

INTERIGHTS’ intervention first sets out the background and context to this case focusing on the particular vulnerability of migrant domestic workers. It notes that the majority of such workers are women, that they are often subject to abuse and exploitation, and that they are often unwilling or unable to secure legal or other forms of assistance.

It goes on to set out the international and comparative law applicable to such workers, both generally and in the context of forced labour. The brief argues that states’ positive obligations to prevent abuse and exploitation of migrant domestic workers must take into account their particular circumstances, and must consider whether the general legal framework at domestic level is sufficient to guarantee their rights and prevent violations. Specific additional measures may be necessary in order to ensure the full and effective protection of migrant domestic workers. The brief concludes by suggesting certain operative  and legislative measures that might go towards providing that protection.

Click here to view the third party intervention.

Contact: Pádraig Hughes.