A Filipino domestic helper consumed dog food out of starvation while working for a family in Brazil.
In an interview with BBC, identified only as Maria, detailed how she was treated by her employers, who subjected her to slave-like conditions. The 40-year-old woman was so busy that even eating became impossible.
Maria, who previously worked in Dubai and Hong Kong, arrived in Brazil in pursuit of greener pastures.
Apart from hearing that the South American country was “nice,” she was attracted by its 2013 legislation that granted maids the same rights as other workers, including eight-hour work days, a maximum of 44 work hours per week, minimum wage, lunch breaks, social security, overtime pay and severance pay, as per The Economist.
But those rights disappeared into thin air when Maria ended up working for a family in a wealthy neighborhood in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s financial center.
She had to clean a large apartment which consisted of a living room, a dining room and four bedrooms, each with its own bathroom. In addition, she had to help the mother take care of three school-aged boys and a baby, as well as do other chores.
With things becoming unbearable, Maria thought of killing herself one night. But she scrapped the idea after remembering her family back in the Philippines — her mother and three daughters, two of whom had cardiac disease.
The next morning, Maria, having not eaten for two days, took half of the meat she prepared for the family’s dog and helped herself.
“I didn’t have [any other] choice to survive,” she said.
Soon, Maria found the courage to challenge her employer and asked why they treated her that way. Unfortunately, the mother only replied that she never liked her.
Then, one morning, Maria’s fate turned for the better. Upon learning that the apartment’s front doors were unlocked, she decided to flee from the household.
But unlike other thrilling tales of domestic helper escapes, Maria’s was rather stylish. While she feared that the building’s security guard would suspect her — with her luggage and all — she waved at the security camera and bid adeus.
She now works for another employer, and feels “free” and “happy” after receiving a new visa from the government.
In 2016, three other maids from the Philippines recruited by the same firm as Maria also left their jobs in Brazil due to similar issues.
“They were crying, their dignities had been destroyed,” said Father Paolo Parisi, head of the non-governmental organization Missao Paz. “I told them this was exploitation.”
More than 250 Filipinas have been hired as maids since 2012 because many Brazilians claim they are well-trained and proficient in English.
But like Father Parisi, Livia Ferreira, a Labour Ministry inspector in Sao Paulo, said it’s all about exploitation.
“They couldn’t find [Brazilians] that would be at their disposal… The changes in legislation empowered housemaids and they weren’t accepting certain working conditions anymore,” she added.
Maria is only one of other foreign domestic helpers who have suffered from modern slavery in Brazil. Authorities are reportedly looking into 180 other cases.