Achieving Accountability for Migrant Domestic Worker Abuse

Janie Chuang, American University Washington College of Law


Domestic work has become increasingly commoditized in the global economy. Migrant domestic workers' remittances constitute a rich source of revenues for their countries of origin, while their labor ameliorates the “care deficit” experienced in wealthier countries of destination. Despite the importance of their work, migrant domestic workers are some of the most exploited workers in the world. They are often discriminated against based on their gender, class, race, nationality, and immigration status, and they are excluded from labor law protections in most countries of destination. This essay examines some of the underlying reasons for this mistreatment and neglect. After describing the scope and framework of the global domestic work market, it explains why the domestic work sector remains highly resistant to formal recognition as a form of labor entitled to worker protections under international and national laws. It explores the roots of resistance to accountability for migrant domestic worker abuse, drawing from sociological studies that have examined the social construction of demand for trafficked migrant domestic workers' labor. Building upon these findings, this Essay turns to a case study of the trafficking of migrant domestic workers into the United States by foreign diplomats. The study underscores the challenges to achieving accountability for this devalued worker population.