In an advisory sent to the agencies, the Ministry of Manpower said it was concerned by the "insensitive and inappropriate" portrayal of domestic helpers in advertisements as well as instances where they are put on display in shopping malls.

"Advertisements which emphasise cheap fees, promotional rates, and/or discounts inadvertently give the impression that the FDWs (foreign domestic workers) are being marketed as merchandise," the ministry said in the advisory, a copy of which was sent to AFP Thursday.

The ministry warned it has the power to suspend or revoke the licences of violators.

Employment agencies should "refrain from all forms of public advertising that casts FDWs in an undignified light," the ministry said.

Advertisements that liken domestic helpers "to merchandise that can be purchased and replaced when found unsatisfactory" are unacceptable, it added.

It urged employment agencies not to make domestic helpers sit outside shop fronts for inspection by prospective employers as it reinforced the impression that they are "commodities to be 'tested' or traded".

The advisory follows news reports and complaints by migrant labour activists about foreign domestic helpers being made to demonstrate household and caregiving chores at employment agency premises in shopping malls.

The Qatar-based Al Jazeera news network in June reported that it spotted foreign domestic helpers at a suburban shopping mall pushing each other around in wheelchairs pretending to be taking care of the elderly.

Others cradled baby dolls or did ironing in mock living rooms, the network said. The manpower ministry said in a July 4 statement that its own investigations found no such "inappropriate" display of foreign domestic helpers.

More than 210,000 women from Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand, Myanmar and India work as maids in affluent Singapore.