"Slavery in DC Update,"by Martha Honey March/April 1999 issue of Poverty & Race
Following the Jan 5, 1999 publication of a front page Washington Post piece entitled “Modern Day Slavery,” the project has gained new momentum. The Post ran a strong editorial on Jan. 7th (“Not in This County They Can’t”) and then the heads of the World Bank and IMF responded in a joint published letter, vowing that “one victimized individual is one too many.”
In the wake of this publicity, our Campaign for Migrant Domestic Workers’ Rights received calls about several new cases. A number of new organizations joined (including UNHCR, International Committee on Migration, DC Immigrant Coalition, and CASA of Maryland), and the city’s leading law firm, Covington and Burling, has offered pro bono legal assistance.
On February 10, we held another negotiating session with the World Bank, this time to discuss the specifics of a proposal we submitted to them. We were pleased that the IMF has joined the Bank in these negotiations. They sent six officials from the two institutions; the Campaign sent 20 from a wide variety of organizations. The Bank/IMF negotiator admitted that they want to “fix” the problem, but proposed doing so by instituting a series of internal reforms to make sure that employers of domestic workers – that is, Bank and IMF G-4 visa holders who bring in G-5 domestic workers – abide by U.S. law. The institutions said they plan to set up an internal monitoring system and to establish clear penalties for G-4 officials who violate the law. They also agreed to print and distribute via U.S. embassies around the world information about the rights of G-5 workers as well as work contracts which would be signed by the worker and employer; copies of these contracts will be filed with the U.S. government and the institutions involved.
The Campaign welcomes these pledges as important steps forward. However, the IMF and World Bank refused to agree to the most important part of the Campaign’s proposal: the formation of an outside monitoring and social service center, to be funded by the Bank and Fund and run under the auspices of the Spanish Catholic Center, which has, for decades, been handling G-5 cases. The Campaign is convinced that outside monitoring of this program is necessary because domestic workers do not feel comfortable complaining to the institutions (the “boss of their boss”).
After much discussion, we agreed to set up a smaller working group, which will try to hammer out a unified proposal.
“Slavery: 1997” was Martha Honey’s lead article in the Nov./Dec. 1997 P&R, describing the shameful working conditions experienced by domestic workers brought into the US under special G-5 visas and employed by diplomats and staff members of international agencies such as the World Bank and IMF. We’re happy to report that publicity about the issue, plus good organizing by Martha and her colleagues, has produced some results.
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