WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 24, 2019) — Nannies, house cleaners, home health aides, and other domestic workers frequently labor for extremely low pay, sometimes in conditions so abusive it amounts to exploitation and human trafficking, according to a report released today by Polaris and the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA). “Human Trafficking at Home: Labor Trafficking of Domestic Workers” details the plight of nannies, house cleaners, and home health aides, and offers detailed solutions to plug the gaping holes that currently exist in legal protections for this mostly women of color workforce. The federal Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, introduced in Congress by Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) on July 15th, would take important steps toward providing these workers the rights they need, as would significant changes to regulations governing temporary employment visas for immigrant workers.
The highest number of labor trafficking cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, almost 23 percent, involved domestic workers. This is likely a small fraction of what is really happening as human trafficking in all its forms is notoriously underreported. Workers were often controlled through the withholding of earnings, misrepresentation of the job, excessive working hours, and emotional abuse. According to NDWA, 67 percent of surveyed domestic workers indicated their job expectations were only covered during informal conversations, with 74 percent saying they could not decline taking on more work.
Click here to read “Human Trafficking at Home: Labor Trafficking of Domestic Workers.” Additionally, Polaris has created a data fact sheet, a guide for families who hire domestic workers, and an overview of what makes certain situations instances of labor trafficking.
“The importance of domestic workers to the functioning of our economy as a whole—let alone the functioning of our individual households—cannot be overstated,” said Lillian Agbeyegbe, Polaris’s learning and impact manager and the report’s author. “Yet, too often we learn about cases where someone has been held as a virtual slave in a home for years on end, and we are always shocked and surprised. We shouldn’t be. It is long past time to recognize that caring for our loved ones and our homes is real, vital work and that the people who do it deserve fair wages, decent working hours and the legal protections that can keep them from being trafficked.”
“Domestic workers do the work that makes all work possible. Yet they work in a ‘wild west’ environment where working conditions are based on the good will of their employer rather than a set standard. This creates a breeding ground for exploitation, including labor trafficking,” said Ai-jen Poo, the Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. “The National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, a 21st-century framework to bring dignity and respect to domestic workers, is part of a bigger solution to ensure that the trafficking of domestic workers ends once and for all.”
Key highlights in the report include:
Many basic U.S. labor laws currently exclude domestic workers. Most workers have at least some legal tools in their proverbial back pockets. Domestic workers, however, have been excluded from many of the rights and protections afforded to most other workers in the United States. The National Labor Relations Act, Fair Labor Standards Act, Occupational Safety and Health Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 all explicitly or implicitly exclude domestic workers.
Flaws within the U.S. government’s temporary work visa programs perpetuate the exploitation of domestic workers. Under the current system, these visas make it all too easy for bad actors to entice workers from abroad into abusive situations and coerce them into staying and suffering because they truly have no other acceptable choices. These visa programs need strengthened oversight to ensure that workers’ rights are respected and that they have avenues to seek legal remedies in cases of abuse. Furthermore, the United States could end “tied” visas, which would remove the threat of deportation or severe hurdles if the worker chooses to change jobs or tries to report abuse and is then fired.
Solutions that can help eliminate the trafficking of domestic workers by raising standards across the industry. Legislation supported by NDWA to significantly strengthen protections for domestic workers, the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, would take an important step toward preventing the trafficking of domestic workers. The bill would provide federal protections to domestic workers, including overtime pay, paid sick leave, meal and rest breaks, privacy protections, and other protections against harassment and discrimination. The Bill of Rights will also establish a hotline for domestic workers to call if they are worried about their safety.
Polaris is a leader in the global fight to eradicate modern slavery. Named after the North Star that guided slaves to freedom in the U.S., Polaris acts as a catalyst to systemically disrupt the human trafficking networks that rob human beings of their lives and their freedom. By working with government leaders, the world’s leading technology corporations, and local partners, Polaris equips communities to identify, report, and prevent human trafficking. Our comprehensive model puts victims at the center of what we do – helping survivors restore their freedom, preventing more victims, and leveraging data and technology to pursue traffickers wherever they operate. Learn more at www.polarisproject.org.
National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) is the leading voice for dignity and fairness for millions of domestic workers in the United States. Founded in 2007, NDWA works for respect, recognition and inclusion in labor protections for domestic workers, majority of whom are immigrants and women of color. NDWA is powered by over 60 affiliate organizations and local chapters and by a growing membership base of nannies, house cleaners and care workers in over 20 states. Learn more about the domestic workers movement on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.