Is the Utility of Diplomatic Immunity Worth the Cost to the United States?

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In the 2008, the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report entitled “U.S.  Government’s Efforts to Address Alleged Abuse of Household Workers by Foreign Diplomats with Immunity Could Be Strengthened.” Within this report, the GAO disclosed that “we identified 42 distinct A-3 and G-5 visa holders who alleged that they were abused by foreign diplomas with some level of immunity from 2000 through 2008, but the total number of alleged incidents is likely higher.”

If this is true, then why would the United States continue to protect the immunities that allow diplomatic agents to abuse their domestic workers? The answer to this question stems from the three ways that diplomatic immunity allows the United States to conduct domestic and foreign policy.

First, diplomatic immunity provides an opportunity to demonstrate bipartisanship in the House and Senate. For example, following the enactment of the Diplomatic Relations Act of 1978 (DRA), Jimmy Carter released the following statement:

“I am pleased, because its enactment is a reflection of what Congress can accomplish when skillful and dedicated leaders of both Houses work closely together in a common cause, with full cooperation and participation from the executive branch- in this instance, especially from the State and Justice Departments.”

The agreement of both parties on the issue of diplomatic immunity showed their capability to cooperate, clearly something the American people wanted to see. Thus, consensus on diplomatic immunity could serve as a distraction from other issues that sharply divide the House and Senate. However, if the House and Senate could focus on the victims of human trafficking in these diplomatic households, they could successfully demonstrate the same level of bipartisanship whilst holding diplomats legally accountable for their treatment of their workers.

Second, the protection of diplomatic immunity could translate into the preservation of diplomatic relations between the United States and other nations. For this reason, the GAO reveals that “if the foreign diplomat’s country is a close ally of the United States, State also will assess how relations with that country might be affected by use of the investigative technique.” For this reason, the strip search and subsequent arrest of Indian consular official Devyani Khobragade for the abuse of her domestic worker sparked tension between the United States and India.

Nevertheless, the United States could utilize this attention to foreign relations to send a clear signal that the protection of basic human rights supersede protection of individuals that violate these rights. Despite the claim that U.S and Indian diplomatic relations suffered due to the Khobragade case, Desai of the Huffington Post asserts that “compared to the big issues — stalling of the implementation of the civil nuclear energy deal, complications of the retail sector reforms, and strains in naval cooperation between the two countries — the Khobragade episode is just a small pebble of irritation.”

The third use of diplomatic immunity, the principle of reciprocity, makes the necessity of diplomatic immunity harder to dispute. Section 4 of the DRA allows the President to broaden or limit immunities of foreign diplomats in the United States pending on their sending State’s treatment of U.S diplomats abroad. Thus, the United States government feels that without protecting diplomatic officials within its territory, U.S. diplomats abroad will become vulnerable to lowered protection standards.

This defense of the existence of diplomatic immunity fails to take into account the victims of abuse. Protected by immunities, diplomats are able to take advantage of their domestic workers without legal repercussions. There must be a balance between protecting the rights of diplomats and the basic human rights of their

The utility of diplomatic immunity as a tool of foreign policy should not undermine the consequences of holding diplomats unaccountable for the treatment of their domestic workers.

*Raven Dunstan

Ugandan Ban On Domestic Worker Exportation Harms the Worker

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image taken from CIA World Factbook

A few days ago, the Ugandan government banned the exportation of domestic laborers. The ban follows a similar series of policies enacted by other major domestic labor-supplying countries in Southeast Asia and Africa in response to the exploitation of domestic workers abroad. Uganda’s new policy prohibits labor recruitment firms from sending individuals abroad to do housework.

The ban on the immigration of domestic laborers fails to address the root causes of domestic labor exploitation, and actually undermines the workers’ already limited abilities to prevent or escape from exploitation in the workplace.  (For an in-depth analysis of the limited legal protections of domestic workers, see the International Labor Organization’s 2013 Report on Domestic Workers Across the World.)

The solution to worker exploitation does not lie in criminalizing the work itself. Banning the immigration of domestic laborers directly punishes the exploited worker population by cutting off a means of income, while only indirectly punishing the exploiting population by cutting off one of many resources of domestic labor.

Further, because of the persistent global demand for domestic labor, domestic work continues to be a common way for migrant workers to make ends meet. Criminalizing migrant domestic workers opens the door to a black market for domestic labor—simultaneously reducing a government’s ability to monitor domestic labor transactions and enforce fair labor standards, and increasing domestic workers’ vulnerability to exploitation by their employers as they illegally enter their workplaces.

Countries like Indonesia and Ethiopia that formerly enacted bans against domestic labor exploitation have now lifted such bans in response to protests by domestic laborers themselves.

If the Ugandan government wants to prevent the exploitation of its domestic workers abroad, it must reconsider the ban on domestic labor exportation. Banning the exportation only undermines the government’s ability to protect these workers. The Ugandan government must stand in solidarity with domestic workers, rather than eliminate their lifelines.

–Lily Liu, BTCC Intern

Threat of Economic Sanctions Could Compel Tier 3 Nations to Comply with TIP Minimum Standards

Tier 3

The Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) released by the Department of State in June 2014 featured a downgrade from Tier 2 to Tier 3 for four countries: Malaysia, Thailand, The Gambia, and Venezuela. According to this report, the members of Tier 3 include “countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.”

Like the other 19 nations in Tier 3, these four countries share instances of both labor and sex trafficking, child trafficking, and trafficking of foreign and national people. The TIP further examines the specific problems each nation faces. For example, the Malaysian government did not attempt to dismantle the process of recruitment and issuance of contracting fees, which inevitably leads to debt bondage. Corruption embedded within Thailand permitted the targeting of Rohingya refugees by human traffickers in the fishing industry. The Gambia failed to not only prosecute alleged traffickers, but also to formally recognize a single trafficked victim this year. Venezuela, especially vulnerable to child sex tourism, did not provide reports concerning investigations of such cases.

Due to the reduction in rank of these four countries, the United States could impose economic sanctions to coerce these nations into compliance with TIP minimum standards. Should these countries be given a second chance before discussion of sanctions begin?

The 2008 amendment to the TVPA allows a country to be placed on the Tier 2 Watch List for up to four consecutive years, pending the approval of the Secretary of State and the nation’s presentation of a written plan for future action. Examining the history of these nations elucidates the worsening nature of human trafficking within their boundaries. Both Malaysia and Thailand have been on the Tier 2 Watch List since 2010. The Gambia joined the Tier 2 Watch List in 2011. Venezuela has been on the Tier 2 Watch List since 2008, was downgraded to Tier 3 in 2011, and returned to the Tier 2 Watch List between 2012 and 2013.

Clearly, allowing nations the chance to stay on the Tier 2 Watch List for years at a time before demotion to Tier 3, only to return back to the Watch List is failing to tackle the true issue at hand. Thus, the question arises of whether economic sanctions could compel Tier 3 nations into complying with TIP minimum standards.

By targeting sectors that are not only prone to human trafficking, but also the most profitable industries, economic sanctions could effectively pressure Tier 3 nations to demonstrate progress. For example, tourist centers represent a lucrative sector of the Venezuelan economy. However, the 2014 TIP reports that “Venezuelan women and girls, including some lured from poor interior regions to urban and tourist centers, such as Caracas, Maracaibo, and Margarita Island, are subjected to sex trafficking within the country.”Thus, any sanction which hurt this particular industry would force the Venezuelan government to at least consider compliance.

However, the use of economic sanctions would also harm people within these industries who produce their goods without the use of trafficked labor. Would the cost to these workers in the industry be worth the pressure placed on Tier 3 governments to meet TIP minimum standards? This would depend on not only the expected success of the sanctions, but also on the ability of the Department of State to maintain favorable diplomatic relations with the other nation. It seems unlikely that after imposing sanctions on a Tier 3 nation, the United States could uphold advantageous foreign relations.

Perhaps the threat of economic sanctions would provide more favorable results. This diplomatic tool would allow the United States to preserve friendly relations with the other nation whilst compelling adherence to TIP minimum standards. Threatening economic sanctions would provide more pressure than the Tier 2 Watch List and could be just enough to make Tier 3 nations take their inadequate performance seriously.


*Raven Dunstan

Human Trafficking into the Thai Shrimp Industry’s Supply Chain

As the world’s largest prawn (shrimp) exporter, Thailand has recently come under scrutiny for enabling a crime that dates back to antiquity: yes, slavery’s modern parallel, human trafficking.

A recent report by The Guardian revealed the atrocity that trafficked migrant workers fuel the $7.3 billion Thai fishing industry. Annually, Thailand produces approximately 42 million tons of seafood and exports 90% of it to the United States, the United Kingdom, and across Europe. Slave labor pervades this industry’s supply chain.

Many of the world’s largest prawn farmers, particularly the Thailand-based Charoen Pokphand (CP) Foods, buy a variety of trash fish and other bycatch to feed their farmed prawns from suppliers that exploit the labor of trafficked migrant workers. Most often enslaved on fishing boats, migrant workers labor long hours (20+) without pay, adequate food, or sufficient rest.

Control. Physical and psychological abuse. Accumulation of debt. Traffickers employ these common tactics to exercise complete control over trafficked persons, who are often too afraid, too “indebted,” or too broken to leave. A Thai vessel may keep an individual enslaved for years to meet the international demand for inexpensive shrimp. When a worker escapes or dies, a captain simply purchases another one. Gone are the days when a slave cost a fortune; human beings are cheap nowadays. This directly translates into traffickers viewing migrant workers as disposable commodities.

When does labor exploitation become modern day slavery? According to the Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, force, fraud, and coercion define trafficking into labor and sex. More generally, little to no pay, lack of freedom, and encroachments on other civil liberties have become common indicators of human trafficking.

Many individuals, particularly from Burma and Cambodia, voluntarily pay brokers to facilitate their migration to Thailand in search of work. Then, these same brokers, often working in tandem with politicians and law enforcement officials, utilize force, fraud, and coercion to sell the workers to captains of large fishing vessels. Large companies like CP Foods buy their trash fish either directly from these vessels or indirectly from other factories that have slavery in their supply chain. Companies such as Walmart, Tesco, and Costco receive their prawn exports from these large multinational suppliers.

This leads to the uncomfortable truth: many Americans purchase their shrimp from companies that have slave labor in their supply chain.

CP Foods and other companies responded to these allegations posed by The Guardian’s report. CP Foods apparently has policies against forced labor and pays its fishmeal factories to ensure these suppliers buy their bycatch from vessels that are licensed, legal, and “slave-free.” Leading supermarkets Walmart, Costco, and Tesco all condemned slavery and defended their policies that are committed to ensuring its absence from their supply chain.

However, policies sometimes fail to achieve their desired result. According to The Guardian’s report, many “legitimate” vessels paid by CP Foods’s factories failed to log their catches or register their workers. Others are simply illegal “ghost boats,” unlicensed suppliers of trash fish that not only mimic legitimate vessels but also habitually exploit slave labor. One boat captain told The Guardian that his only goal is to maximize his profit, a common motive driving human trafficking into supply chains.

Still, it is simplistic to believe that profit maximization itself explains why trafficking into supply chains continues to persist. An entire “culture” surrounding human trafficking reduces human beings to cheap commodities to be bought and sold in “the free market.” This must be uprooted.

The sad truth remains that even those migrant workers who manage to escape remain invisible. If the government and its law enforcement officials are complicit in human trafficking, how does a victim of modern day slavery receive justice, compensation for his or her labor, and/or services to address the physical and psychological abuse, drug addictions, and other health issues that he or she may experience?

As with most victims of trafficking, escape and rescue are often insufficient means to engender full recovery and a road to empowerment.

What is clear is that the Thai government will have to respond to these allegations. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has adopted a new Protocol on Forced Labor, which is a legally binding statement that strengthens the international community’s fight against forced labor. It aims to further protect victims and increase their access to remedying services. Governments are also required to protect workers, including migrant workers, from illegal recruitment efforts, such as those used by the fishing vessels in the Thai case. However, Thailand voted against this new Protocol; four of the eight votes against this new ILO convention came from Thailand.

What does this say about the Thai government’s true stance on ending forced labor, and where do we go from here?

According to another source, a sustainable and ethical global economy untainted by slavery may be possible. It asserts that first a nation must establish research teams trained in documenting the production base of various commodities at every level of the supply chain. Whereas effective responses would vary in each industry, constructing a constant system of independent, third-party certification would be a crucial first step to ensure transparency within the industry’s supply chain.

Second, it is important to address the issues that render communities vulnerable to human trafficking and exploitation. Industries wishing to source labor from particular communities should also invest in their development, education, health and security in order to ensure that individuals from these communities are not trafficked or exploited.

Combating human trafficking into supply chains highlights a greater commitment to an ethical, sustainable global economy. Globalization will continue as the world becomes more interconnected. Rather than forging connections through a shared chain of goods produced by slave labor, it is time for all nations to come together to address how human trafficking (and slavery) can be ended once and for all.

–Harleen Kaur, BTCC intern

Solidarity With Workers Through Purchases

Last week, major UK/Ireland retail group Primark began investigating accusations of forced labor in its facilities. The accusations arose from an alleged hand-written note decrying factory conditions, found in a pair of Primark-produced pants, as well as from a sewn-in label noting “ ‘degrading’ sweatshop conditions.”

While the validity of the notes remains unclear, the oppression and exploitation of factory workers is a reality. The US Department of State’s recently released 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report notes factories as a common place for labor exploitation, especially in relation to trafficked persons, who may experience forced labor and debt bondage in less regulated factory environments.

This episode underlining the vulnerability of factory workers was a small validation of a pact I made a year ago to “purchase consciously”—a choice that has rendered my day-to-day life a little less convenient, but a little more meaningful.

My choice to “purchase consciously” is based on the “ethical consumerism” movement. The movement stems from the concept of “dollar voting,” which posits that consumers drive future production by indicating what they want through their purchases. “Ethical consumerism” consists of “positive buying” (purchasing products that might be environmentally or labor-friendly, for example) and “moral boycotts” (negating to purchase items whose production might damage the environment, or rely on labor exploitation, etc.) I have to note here that I prefer the term “purchasing consciously” to “purchasing ethically” because I hesitate to impose my personal values as universal ideals.

My reason for trying to “purchase consciously” is simple, and a small shout-out to the oft-revisited John Rawls and his theory of the “veil of ignorance:”

If I were to construct an economic system without knowing where in the system I will be once it is in place, I would want to create a system that is the most fair—and to me, that means a system that would fulfill the basic physical and mental needs of nutrients, shelter, agency, and dignity, of all individuals.

“Purchasing consciously” is my way of indicating my preference for items whose production involves living wages, safe working conditions and worker protections, and environmental sustainability.

Let me be honest—this is neither an inexpensive, nor a foolproof means of advocating for universal standards of social goods. After hours of perusing through the “social responsibility” webpages of my go-to stores, googling “ethical consumerism,” and looking up third-party ethical ranking lists, I determined that I could buy Fair Trade branded, organically and sustainably produced goods, but that I would probably go broke doing it, and dress primarily like a globe-trekking mountain-climber. This is not a sustainable, nor a preferable, means of living, for a 22-year old student about to take on the financial responsibility of student debt.

Purchasing consciously, at least in today’s economy, is unfortunately a financial privilege—individuals below a certain income bracket simply cannot afford to eat local produce, or buy enviro-friendly organic t-shirts made in a factory that pays its workers a living wage. These goods exist, but are not accessible at the moment, due to their price, and lack of transparency regarding production processes. What’s an indebted but socially conscious young student to do?

Alas, I have no easy answer, and only experience, to share. My two takeaways from (so far) a year of purchasing consciously are as follows:

1)   Try your best. While most of my food budget goes to the popular chain grocery store, Trader Joe’s (whose CEO is actually doing some pretty wonderful things), I will make the occasional farmer’s market purchase, to support local farmers and artisans when I can.

2)   Tell other people.  Get the word out about purchasing consciously! The more people who consume in this way, even if only occasionally, the more impactful the movement will be!

Purchasing consciously is an excellent way to stand in solidarity with exploited individuals around the globe.

–Lily Liu, BTCC Intern

Diplomatic Immunity: Perpetuating the Cycle of Human Trafficking

Following the celebration of yesterday’s International Domestic Workers Day, it is important to not only examine the rights for domestic workers, but also the punishments for employers who fail to honor these protections.

The recent accusations raised against Kenyan Embassy’s Head of Public Affairs, Waithira Njuguna, for treating one of her housekeepers, Lucy, as a domestic slave emphasizes a key problem with the Vienna Convention on Relations and Optional Protocol on Disputes: diplomatic immunity.

The household servants of diplomats coming from abroad to work in the United States obtain A-3 visas. Article 10 (c) of the Vienna Convention states that diplomats must report “the arrival and final departure of household employees.” However, there is no agency that monitors the conditions of household servants to ensure that their contract is being upheld. Thus, once they enter the home of their assigned diplomat, there is nothing to stop the foreign official from treating their household employees however they desire.

What about the federal law of the United States?  This surely should safeguard against abuse of the A-3 visa problem by diplomats, right? This would be true if the ingrained institution known as diplomatic immunity did not exist. Diplomatic immunity prevents the prosecution of diplomats for violating a wide range of laws, from speeding to assault, unless their sending State waives their immunity. However, if diplomats place their household employee under the same conditions of a trafficked person, should diplomatic immunity still protect them?

Currently, diplomats enjoy immunity from prosecution of even this contemptible crime. Consider the example earlier this year of the former Deputy Consul General of the Consulate General of India in New York City, Devyani Khobragade. Her employee filed charges against her for visa fraud. In this case, visa fraud entails not honoring the contract under which her employee obtained an A-3 visa to come to the United States. However, a federal judge dismissed the charges because of Khobragade’s status of diplomatic immunity. Although charges were reinstated after prosecutors were able to prove that the immunity was limited to official work, no punishment has been issued thus far. Nonetheless, there have been numerous other cases, where diplomats enjoy full immunity in similar circumstances.

In light of Khobragade’s case, it appears that even if Lucy could prove the conditions she was forced to live under in Njuguna’s home, charges would not be upheld. The likelihood that Kenya would waive Njuguna’s diplomatic immunity to allow prosecution is low. Thus, the harshest form of punishment the diplomat currently faces is being asked by the State Department to return to her sending State.

From these two current cases of human trafficking, it is clear that the principle of diplomatic immunity outlined in the Vienna Convention should be reexamined. Diplomatic immunity should not allow diplomats to place their household employees under conditions that include long hours, denial of wages, verbal and physical abuse, and an inability to leave. As long as such immunity remains, the A-3 Visa program upholds the practice of human trafficking within the homes of foreign diplomats.

*Raven Dunstan


Human Trafficking 101: Labeling as a Stepping Stone to Restorative Justice

The first step to empowering victims of human trafficking is to stop calling them victims, and start recognizing them as survivors. Labeling influences the way that social actors interact with the labeled; in a situation where human trafficking survivors are quite invisible to the public eye, and thus lack the resources to actively cultivate their public image, consciously labeling survivors as such can dynamically shift the way that other actors engage with these individuals towards a more supportive and restorative approach.

The difference between victims and survivors is not merely one of diction.  The label “victim,” by tying an individual to a wrong that he or she has suffered in the past, implies a degree of passivity and a retrospective lens that undermines the individual’s ability to move forward from his or her experience with trafficking. That is, being a “victim” characterizes an individual by an action that others imposed upon him or her in the past, and may prevent the individual from moving beyond the inflicted harm.

The label “survivor” recognizes an individual’s past experiences, yet implies a degree of agency on part of the individual to continue living and move forward with his or her life.

Recognizing an individual as a human trafficking survivor acknowledges the individual’s ability to reconcile the tragedy that he or she faced in the past with his or her desire to move forward.

In the grander scheme of things, the labeling transition from victim to survivor represents a shift away from a retributive justice system, which concentrates on the crime itself and on the perpetrator of the crime, towards a restorative one, which views both the perpetrator and survivor as individuals in need of support. The US’s fundamental act regarding human trafficking, the Trafficking Victim Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), by advocating for a “victim-centered” approach, acknowledges this need for an increased attention to those afflicted by a crime, to help those individuals smoothly and successfully reintegrate into their chosen communities.

Given limited resources, the public must invest in a justice system that seeks to both prevent the crime of trafficking, and restore the individuals involved in trafficking (i.e. both the perpetrators and the survivors) as positive community citizens.

Regulations regarding human trafficking should balance punition with conscientious restoration: laws should not discount the well-being of the survivor in a quest to punish the perpetrator. Recognizing victims as survivors can help enact a restorative culture that pushes the public to function as an ally to all parties involved in trafficking cases, to enable all such parties to become positive social actors.


For an overview of restorative justice, check out Howard Zehr’s The Little Book of Restorative Justice.


– Lily Liu, BTCC Intern

Mental healthcare law passed in Virginia; precedent set

photo by CGP Grey

photo by CGPGrey

Mental healthcare just received a crucial albeit limited boost in the state of Virginia. The General Assembly of the Virginia legislative body this past month, led by Senator Creigh Deeds (D-Bath), instituted several reforms in mental healthcare, which included extending the amount of time allotted to find a psychiatric bed for anyone with a need; funding for a real-time online registry of aforementioned beds; and requiring state mental health facilities to provide a “bed of last resort”, where if you need a psychiatric bed, one will be guaranteed one in the state of Virginia. Furthermore, Sen. Deeds also secured approval for a four-year in-depth study of the state’s mental health system, which will keep mental health on the legislative agenda in Virginia for some time.

House Bill 293, introduced by Senator Rob Bell (R-Albemarle), also states that when someone is officially ordered to be put into psychiatric care and a clinician cannot find an alternate bed in a private facility, the person will be brought to the state mental hospital. The hospital must admit the person requiring psychiatric care.

It is a crucial step in not only addressing the needs of a vulnerable population in Virginia but increasing the likelihood of Virginia accepting Medicaid expansion. These new rules will enable more people with mental health conditions to seek care, which will require more resources and that will put more emphasis on paying mental health workers better wages while creating more positions to accommodate this increased need. With more resources, there is more responsibility and more need for a larger, well-coordinated workforce to address the needs of this vulnerable population.  Both disability rights and worker rights groups can come together and rally over a cause that would serve the interests of both parties: getting quality care for all people with mental health conditions from a well-compensated and conscientious workforce.

If you are interested in addressing these issues in your community and in the nation at large, Caring Across Generations (CAG) is working at the intersection of senior rights, worker rights, and disability rights. While the Virginia reforms are more short-term, the long-term view of Senators Deeds and Bell point towards the long-term care and support of people with mental health conditions and disabilities as a major topic in policy over the coming years. One of CAG’s major focuses is the attainment of long-term care and support of people with disabilities and senior citizens alongside rights and benefits for the workers who support them. CAG’s Policy Pillars include “Support for Consumers and Families”, which emphasizes the need for quality care that is respectful and comprehensive to the needs of the people receiving care and support, and “Job Quality”, which focuses on paying the workers fairly and creating safe workspaces while not financially burdening the people receiving care. CAG seeks to change culture and policy in regards to the long-term care and support industry to the benefit of all involved.

To learn more about Caring Across Generations’ work on the relationship between senior rights, disability rights, and direct care worker rights, please visit their About Us page.

- Brianna Montague, CAG Intern

This International Women’s Day: A Call for Visa Protections

ImageIn December, an Indian consular officer named Devyani Khobragade was arrested and charged with committing visa fraud and providing false statements in order to gain entry to the United States for her domestic worker, Sangeeta Richard. The case made international news and even caused some serious tension between the United States and India. Thanks to the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Sangeeta’s story, and that of hundreds of other domestic workers around the world, was told: abuse of the already poorly structured visa system by diplomats is not news to those on the ground. Even back in 2008, a Government Accountability Office investigation found 42 household workers who alleged they were abused by foreign diplomats with immunity eight years prior. The report noted the true number was likely higher due to workers’ fear of contacting law enforcement. We know that not much has changed since then. 

 So what are the visas that domestic workers come over on? B-1, A-3, G-5 visas are used for domestic employees who are accompanying an employer who is visiting or on temporary assignment in the United States. A-3 and G-5 visas are registered with the State Department Office of Protocol, which keeps records of the number of these visa holders in the United States at any one time. In contrast, B-1 domestic worker visas is a nonimmigrant visas for employment and therefore, not registered with the State Department. While applicants for most other nonimmigrant work visas must submit documents containing personal data and basic employment and contact information to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, they play no role in the B-1 visa issuance process and lack information on B-1 domestic workers. 

Domestic workers who work on A-3 and G-5 visas have some new protections put in place by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act- though Sangeeta’s story shows that diplomats and international officials do not necessarily follow these rules. And if the State Department or other government entities do not enforce them, the disregard grows. In Sangeeta’s case, the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service (the investigative arm of the State Department) did take up the case and followed it through in collaboration with the Department of Justice. This is important and we hope that DSS continues to take these cases seriously. Unfortunately, the higher level offices of the State Department later decided to grant the consular officer immunity, shielding her from prosecution. If there are no true penalties for abusers, then the laws and regulations on the books will continue to be scoffed at. They are certainly a start, but it’s up to domestic workers, allies in the public, the media, and activists to press the government to follow through. 

When it comes to B-1 workers, and even J-1 workers, the protections are less clear. There’s movement within the advocacy community, particularly the work of the International Labor Recruitment Working Group, ATEST, and the Freedom Network, for visa reform and regulation of foreign labor recruiters to reduce trafficking on legal work visas.  

One example of a common issue faced by workers on visas is lack of portability. The visas tie the workers to one employer, which makes transferring or leaving the position impossible. Threatening to revoke legal immigration status is a major way bad employers force workers into servitude, or compel them to stay in unsafe or exploitative working conditions. This kind of workplace harms not only those workers, but all the US born workers who have to compete for jobs in a “race to the bottom” environment. There are few regulations or checks in place to protect workers- and women workers in private homes employed by diplomats or other powerful people experience these risks exponentially. 

This International Women’s Day, we must take a stand against domestic workers’ exploitation and make reforms to work visas so they are not gateways to human trafficking. 


Learn more about this issue:


- Yasemin Ayarci, Worker/Immigrant Rights Advocacy Intern

BTCC staff, interns, and allies #standwithsangeeta

Last week, as India’s new ambassador to the U.S gave his first address, we participated in a vigil outside the building to draw attention to the Sangeeta Richard case. Exploitation and abuse that domestic workers face is far too common and there must be diplomatic accountability in these cases such as this.

Exploitation cannot be ignored and we will continue to work on behalf of trafficked domestic workers and their families to ensure their voices are heard.Image