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Preventing Abuse, Exploitation and Trafficking: Arming Workers with Information

Araceli Martinez-Olguin,
Women's Rights Project
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July 2, 2009

The State Department has published a pamphlet that will inform vulnerable workers who come to the United States on temporary visas, including domestic workers and guest workers, of their legal rights and the resources available to them.

The publication of this document comes after years of advocacy on behalf of workers who are vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation (see here, here, and here). The pamphlet is the product of a collaboration between the federal government and numerous advocates and nongovernmental organizations, including the ACLU, CASA of Maryland, Global Workers Justice Alliance, Jenner & Block, Legal Momentum, Southern Poverty Law Center, National Employment Law Project, Farmworker Justice, National Immigration Justice Center, Farmworker Legal Services of New York, Solidarity Center, Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc., AFL-CIO and Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking.

One group of these workers is domestic workers, predominantly poor women of color, brought here to work for foreign diplomats stationed in the U.S. Due to their isolation in the home, their anonymity, the power and immunity that their diplomat employers have, language barriers, and lack of information, these women are extremely susceptible to exploitation and abuse, and many have been enslaved for years with little or no recourse. With the issuance of this pamphlet, the State Department is taking an important step toward addressing the lack of information and misinformation propagated by some employers.

The pamphlet, whose creation and dissemination is mandated by the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA), enacted last December, is to be distributed to temporary visa holders before they leave their home countries. It will be available in 11 languages and will be distributed by every U.S. Embassy and Consulate throughout the world.

The pamphlet provides workers information about their legal rights regarding pay, discrimination, sexual harassment, health and safety, unions and collective bargaining, leaving an abusive employment situation, and employer retaliation. Domestic workers employed by diplomats are specifically advised that they have the right to an employment contract describing their work duties, work hours, days off, and pay and that their diplomat employers may not confiscate their passports or other personal property. The pamphlet also describes warning signs of human trafficking, explains how to get help, and addresses concerns about deportation.

We hope and believe that this information will go a long way to protect vulnerable domestic workers by informing them of their rights and how to access help and services. But the fact remains that they are still incredibly vulnerable and that much more must be done to eradicate their trafficking and exploitation. The State Department must implement the other provisions of the TVPRA, including improved tracking of reported abuses. To fully vindicate domestic workers’ rights, there must be a system through which they can bring their abusers to justice and receive compensation for their losses. We look forward to continuing our work with the State Department on these issues.

The State Department pamphlet is currently available in English, in an online version and a printable version.

To learn more about the ACLU’s work on behalf of domestic workers abused and trafficked by diplomats, visit

Vania Leveille, Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office and Araceli Martinez-Olguin, Staff Attorney, Women’s Rights Project