Domestic workers enslaved in the U.S.

Carolyn Frederickson of the ACLU’s DC office writes on the community blog:

Yesterday, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its report [PDF] on government efforts to address the abuse of domestic workers by foreign diplomats within the United States. The report confirmed what advocates, service providers and victims have long known: that this deeply troubling problem runs deep, and through its inaction and dilatory behavior, the State Department has unwittingly facilitated the exploitation, abuse and enslavement of poor, vulnerable women, some in the shadows of the nation’s capital.

Go read the rest. The ACLU’s site has more information about these women, including audio clips of them telling their stories. One woman, Raziah Begum, came to New York from Bangladesh to work for a Bangladeshi ambassador to the UN. And then:

Upon Ms. Begum’s arrival in the United States, the Ahmeds confiscated Ms. Begum’s passport and forbade her to set foot outside of the apartment.
The Ahmeds forced Ms. Begum to perform housework from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m., seven days a week without a single day off. They paid her $29 per month — approximately six cents per hour — which they never paid her directly but sent to her son in Bangladesh.
The Ahmeds forced Ms. Begum to sleep on the hard floor without a mattress or a blanket. They forbade her to eat at a table or sit anywhere in the house except on one stool in the kitchen. When there were visitors to the apartment, the Ahmeds required Ms. Begum to remain in the kitchen where she could not interact with the guests. When there were overnight guests, the Ahmeds made Ms. Begum sleep under the dining table so that she could not be seen.

The ACLU is pursuing a court case, legislation, and a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of women like Raziah Begum.

Join the Conversation

  • feminismforever

    I’m really glad to see you covering this. It is an incredibly important issue for women and for feminists.
    I would also like to point out that it’s easy to be judgmental about others’ practices, but we all contribute to slave labor when we buy goods produced through exploited labor – chocolate and clothing being major examples. I would like to see that covered more, and it’s something that we have a lot more control over.
    But I love the blog. Keep up the good work.

  • Hypatia

    Agreed. There’s also a book out about the phenomenon of care workers leaving their families to earn wages in the U.S./parts of Europe. Check out Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy by Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild.

  • KBestOliver

    There was a great article in The Believer on enslaved foreign workers, and I think the folks at McSweeney’s are putting out a book on that very topic. Slavery is not a part of our past.

  • keshmeshi

    And they have diplomatic immunity, right? Ugh.