As you may have read in my previous post, human trafficking is a human rights issue that I feel strongly about and devote my professional life to ending. Tomorrow is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day so a blog post is not only necessary but required (I have 3 events from morning to evening to attend so posting this would be impossible tomorrow).
When many people hear human trafficking they not only think of an issue happening overseas but one that is limited to the commercial sex industry. Rightfully so, they think of women being victimized. Indeed, roughly 98% of victims of sex trafficking are women and girls. But so often we overlook or even forget those who are being enslaved everyday in forced labor situations. This includes restaurant work, hotel work, construction and landscaping, agriculture, hair/nail salons, traveling sales crews, etc. The list goes on. The form of labor trafficking that I would like to focus on for this post is domestic workers — the nannies, caregivers, and housecleaners that make other work so possible in America.
Domestic work allows our country to be productive. Nannies come in to care for our children so we can go to work; caregivers take care of the elderly and disabled so we can go to work. Our homes our cleaned by someone else so we can spend more time at work, doing leisurely activities, and spending time with our family. Domestic workers are the backbone of America and yet they are so often taken for granted, overlooked, and exploited.
Women — who are traditionally the caregivers (ahh gender roles!) are entering the workforce exponentially today and policies are not keeping up to speed in terms of maternity leave, child care, elderly care and services for those with disabilities.Children are still in need of care, our elderly parents are still in need of monitoring and care, clothes need to be folded and dishes need to be cleaned after dinner is made. Right Romney?
These tasks are delegated to domestic workers, who are so often female and foreign-born. Domestic work is not included under labor laws and protections. Workers rarely enter into a contract. In a landmark study released by the National Alliance of Domestic Workers, over 2,000 domestic workers were surveyed and researchers found that of the few that did have some sort of employment agreement, all were missing key provisions of standard working conditions (fair pay, hours of work, conditions of work, etc). Also, 30% of those that did have some agreement reported that their employer broke at least one provision within the past 12 months. Who do they report this to? The Department of Labor? Right… because they (1) know what the DOL is as an immigrant (2) many are undocumented so they have a strong and real fear of deportation (85% did not complain about their working conditions because they were afraid they would be deported) (3) they are experiencing physical and emotional abuse that inflicts fear in them to report anything to anybody.
So many of these caregivers not only depend on their employers for income — as minimal as it may be — but they are often also living on the premise in which they are working. Therefore, they are dependent upon their employer for housing and food as well.
This problem is not just happening across the pond. It is not just happening in poor neighborhoods. It could be happening in the house next door or your boss may be taking advantage of a domestic worker. The woman picking out tomatoes at the grocery story with a young child in the carriage may be a trafficked domestic worker. We would never know if we didn’t look beneath the surface. Domestic work has been apart of American culture dating back to slavery and indentured servitude. It is normal and necessary in order for the “more advantaged” to live their lives and be successful. We hear that someone has a nanny, caregiver or a housecleaner and we never ask anything more. Name? Age? Story? I know I haven’t stopped to ask many people who tell me that they have a nanny or housecleaner who that person it is. Have you?
As a society, we have a lot of work to do and I encourage you all to start making steps that lead to strides in helping to protect and support domestic workers. I want to highlight one of the many great recommendations that the report from the National Alliance of Domestic Workers released:
We must create a more equitable economic environment for all low-wage workers. It is difficult to advocate for the rights of domestic workers in an economic and political environment in which the rights of low-wage workers more broadly are so badly frayed. An increase in the federal minimum wage, a strengthened safety net, paid sick and family leave, access to affordable medical care, and opportunities for career advancement for the low-wage workforce would be major steps
toward improving job quality and quality of life for domestic workers.The immigrant workforce would benefit dramatically from a pathway to citizenship. Public policies that raise standards across the low-wage labor market will positively influence the lives of domestic workers.
Domestic workers have rights and are entitled to the protections that you and I are granted every day in the work that we do. Stand up for those caring for: the next generation, the generation that worked so hard before us and those who cannot work due to disability. They are the backbone of America, we must support them in return.