Au Pair Scheme: Cultural Exchange or a Pathway to Slavery?



Tina Davis
International award-winning documentary maker, University of Sydney PhD Candidate, board member of the Norwegian Anti-Slavery Association.


There has been a change in the use of the au pair scheme in the past fifteen years that has created a shift from its original intention as a cultural exchange program. Socio-economic change in societies in the South and East has led to a new wave of female migrants seeking legal work opportunities in European countries, and change in the North has led to an increase in demand for domestic workers. The au pair program has become a means to cover these needs. Yet the use of the au pair institution as a temporary domestic work system creates challenges that not only contradict its intention, but also fail to offer labor rights and protection to the migrant women who enter the program to earn money. This article examines the au pair system in Norway, a country known for social and gender equality and a strongly developed welfare system based on social democratic ideals of solidarity. The article focuses in particular on how the au pair scheme is being misused as a temporary domestic work system by both the host families and the au pairs, and the exploitation and human trafficking cases that have emerged as a consequence in recent years.

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