Is it illegal to exhibit Filipino maids in store display windows in Singapore malls?

By now, the now infamous report “Buy a discount maid at Singapore’s malls” featured by Al Jazeera last week has been shared and re-shared on social media as well as published and re-published by mainstream news organisations, further inflaming outrage among Filipinos whose egos have already taken severe beatings thanks to some media gaffes and online vilification campaigns emerging in recent days.

Questionable approaches to marketing Filipino workers have been uncovered in Singapore.
Questionable approaches to marketing Filipino workers have been uncovered in Singapore.
When it rains, it pours. The Al Jazeera report described how, in a Singapore mall, domestic workers from Indonesia, the Philippines, and Myanmar are on display on store windows, sometimes advertised as being on “super promo” or “special discount” rates. The report has sparked a furor over what is regarded as a degrading commoditisation of migrant workers in Singapore. No less than the Philippines’ Vice President Jejomar ‘Jojo’ Binay has reportedly expressed “deep concern” over the report calling on the Philippine embassy there to “make proper representations with the Singapore authorities” to investigate this “indignity” these workers are seemingly suffering. According to Binay, these practices constitute “a violation of an international convention protecting the rights of migrant workers,” and is confident that “such acts will not be tolerated by Singapore.”

Beyond being observed as “listless” and in a state of “artificial silence” in the Al Jazeera report, however, no other reliable reports on the matter so far confirm whether or not these workers are in actual distress. According to the Convention 189 & Recommendation 201 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers published by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on the 15th November 2011, domestic workers are guaranteed “minimum labour protections on par with other categories of workers, while allowing for considerable flexibility in implementation.” The Convention, specifically relevant to this matter, directs ILO member countries to elminate “all forms of forced or compulsory labour,” and eliminate “discrimination in respect of employment and occupation” as a matter of fundamental workers’rights principle (Article 3).

Specific articles also stipulate that strong measures be taken to protect these workers from “all forms of abuse, harrassment, and violence” (Article 5) and that they be provided “decent working conditions and, if they reside in the household, decent living conditions that respect their privacy”.

It seems, then, that it may be a stretch in the interpretation of international convention with regard to domestic workers to take the Singapore government to task on the matter of the practices exposed by the Al Jazeera report. Opportunity may lie, however, in Article 15 of the convention, which stipulates that members shall (citing items relevant to the subject)…

(c) adopt all necessary and appropriate measures, within its jurisdiction and, where appropriate, in collaboration with other Members, to provide adequate protection for and prevent abuses of domestic workers recruited or placed in its territory by private employment agencies. These shall include laws or regulations that specify the respective obligations of the private employment agency and the household towards the domestic worker and provide for penalties, including prohibition of those private employment agencies that engage in fraudulent practices and abuses; [and,]

(d) consider, where domestic workers are recruited in one country for work in another, concluding bilateral, regional or multilateral agreements to prevent abuses and fraudulent practices in recruitment, placement and employment[.]

The above, however, still leaves a yawning loophole through which the offending retailing practice in that Singapore mall may hop through as the Convention remains silent on the manner with which jurisdiction over personnel is managed prior to being assumed by final employers.

As of this writing, the Philippines Overseas Labor Office (POLO) is reportedly investigating the matter. According to DFA spokesman Charles Jose, the Philippine government can only pursue the matter “in coordination with Singapore authorities,” and admits that most of the agencies implicated in these scandals are “legitimate” engaging in practices the legality or illegality of which is still subject to evaluation. For now, POLO will start with investigating “the manner [with] which they are promoting their business.”

So far there is no reported official statement released by the Singapore government on the matter.

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23 Comments on "Is it illegal to exhibit Filipino maids in store display windows in Singapore malls?"

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in my own opinion, NO. we have to accept the reality that we are an exporter of maids and this ads attracts costumer, same with other businesses.


the mall in question is actually a “maid mall/shopping”

not your normal shopping centre . you don’t go there unless you need to hire a maid.
the things you see inside would draw protests if you allow them to be seen in normal malls .

“$20 to feed 40 people.” is crazy
that’s only slightly less than 700peso

i need like min $2-3 a meal for a poor meal and $3-4 for something “ok”
$20 is more acceptable for around max 10 people if you cook yourself


Question, is there even an effort from Philippine government to decrease our export of maids? Like thinking of alternative job creation (factory work or something).


Those must be low standards for ‘decent living conditions that respect their privacy,’ since it seems employers can insist on their household help being single and staying that way. Then again, I even see that stipulation in posters recruiting for fast food staff in the Philippines. Don’t do anything stupid like fall in love, or your dream burger flipping career will be over.

Toro Hyden
It is like the slave bidding blocks in the U.S. Southern States; during the slave trading time. A slave would stand on the block; and the buyers, inspect them. Only, it has gone modern. It is done in the mall, with pictures of the domestic workers…it is good they did not distribute, discount coupons. Binay cannot do anything. The only good thing to do: is create jobs and opportunities, here in the Philippines. So that people will not go and work in foreign countries; and sell their dignities. What has Binay done in creating jobs and opportunities? What has Aquino… Read more »

It reminds me of the one-way window in prostitution houses. You know, customers look at the window to see girls sitting at the benches and pick who they want. So the question is, is this human trafficking or a front for such? And, displaying people in windows maybe treating humans as a commodity, and could be a violation of human rights.

Confirm plus Chop
This world was never fair, filipino destiny is the slave race of Asia. A few may escape this fate, but the majority will always be so lah. I love to hire the young maid, but I always do a good body check before I purchase, touch face, middle and below, watch her eye can tell if she is a wet and willing spinner haha! They know their place well, but still need a safe in house otherwise they will stealing, you cannot blame them, they are human in body but the mind still a little bit like animal. You guys… Read more »

Reminds me of those movies about slave trading. You see these people haggling over the price of a person. This is no different. They may not be in visible chains, but believe me, they are slaves. They may be getting a salary, but they are slaves just the same.


If it’s so shameful leave. But of course you won’t. That’s the real shame! Treated like shit in Singapore is far preferable to being treated like shit in the Failipines


Looks like the “subservient” demeanor of the Filipinos has reached an all time low with this one. Goodness, I can’t believe how desperate one can be just to put food on the table for their families. Dignity is surely becoming an alien concept for these people.


This is a question for Singaporean authorities. if you were a Filipino ‘MAID’ working in a foreign country, would you want people using your picture and describing your job title to total strangers? IDK, but whatever anyone thinks it is not a debate to be won in the public forum.


one thing is crtain about this situation: Jejomar Binay doesn’t give a good shit about anyone working in Singapore. The guy is a self-serving weasel/thief. and that is all.

I don’t get it .. Philippines export maids in truck load, and then insist the maids must be treated this way or that way why not simply stop exporting maids ? no, cannot do, as no jobs at home .. yah right .. And the current president even recently begged the Singapore president to give more preference for Filipinos to work in Singapore I wonder when Filipinos will get real and see that they are in this predicament because of themselves, nobody else .. and for those who are blaming Binay and all, well, let the tell you this ..… Read more »