Labor trafficking victims of diplomats launch campaign in the US


traffick3.jpgButlatlat – Last week, domestic workers from various immigrant communities gathered at the Philippine consulate on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, New York to bring attention to the existence of modern-day slavery of domestic workers. They demanded enforcement of existing anti-trafficking laws to protect workers and punish foreign diplomats who have trafficked domestic workers into the United States. More than 75 women workers and their allies joined the rally that was also seen as a launch of a campaign focused on labor trafficking of domestic workers.

In a letter addressed to the US State Department, the protestors led by an organization of Filipino domestic workers Damayan Migrant Workers Association and allied groups named seven countries with diplomats who they alleged are guilty of trafficking women domestic workers and forcing them into slavery; these countries are the Philippines, Kuwait, Tanzania, Mauritius, Saudi Arabia, India and Peru.

They called the campaign “Baklas (Filipino word for “dismantle”): Break Free from Labor Trafficking and Modern-Day Slavery and said that it is supported by other worker centers, grassroots organizations and advocates against trafficking. The Urban Justice Center is also aiding the campaign.

In a letter to the US State Department, the campaign is seeking the enforcement of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act 2008 by suspending the privilege of bringing domestic workers into the US of countries, the diplomats of which are found to be engaged in labor trafficking. In cases where domestic workers are demanding justice from these employers, groups are calling for the US State Department to press home countries to waive the diplomatic immunity of traffickers.

Helper settles civil case vs Philippine official

During the protest, Damayan announced the settlement of the civil case of one of its members Marichu Baoanan.

On June 24, 2008, with the assistance of Damayan and Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Baoanan filed a civil lawsuit of 15 counts including trafficking, forced labor, peonage and slavery against her former employers, Permanent Representative to the United Nations of the Philippines Lauro Baja, his wife Norma Baja, and their daughter Maria “Beth” Facundo.

According to reports, Marichu was trafficked to the US by the Bajas and worked as a domestic worker in the Baja household for approximately three months. She was forced to work at least 18 hours a day, seven days a week, with no days off, for $100 or approximately six cents per hour. Invoking diplomatic immunity, the Bajas asked the court to dismiss the charges.

After a one-year legal and organizing battle to waive Baja’s immunity, Judge Victor Marrero of the New York Southern District Court denied Baja’s motion and effectively removed his immunity so the case could proceed. Three years after filing, the case was recently settled.

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By Ina Alleco R. Silverio

Image: Barb Howe/Flickr