Domestic and Migrant Workers

Millions of people around the world are on the move, trying to adapt to life in countries not their own. In some cases this movement is voluntary, as people search for better life opportunities, education, or work. In many more cases, however, the migration is forced, as people flee poverty, civil unrest, and war, or as they search for employment that will simply allow them to survive.

A migrant worker is a person engaged in a remunerated activity in a country of which he or she is not a national. A domestic worker is defined by the International Labour Organization (ILO) as “a wage-earner working in a private household, under whatever method and period of remuneration, who may be employed by one or by several employers who receive no pecuniary gain from this work.” Domestic workers are usually occupied as housekeepers, nannies, cooks, drivers, gardeners, and other personal servants. Some domestic and migrant workers labor under slave-like conditions.

In the last decade there has been an increase in a form of modern-day slavery that is practiced in the “developed” or “first” world: the exploitation of foreign migrant domestic workers. Domestic workers who are taken to other countries by diplomats and corporate executives are among the most abused and vulnerable migrant workers. Although not bought as slaves, fundamental human rights of migrants are frequently violated or ignored. The exploitation can range from wage and hour violations to physical and sexual abuse. In many cases employers have withheld legal documents of migrant workers, thereby restricting their mobility. Domestic workers such as these are not covered by labor protection legislation; that fact combined with language and cultural barriers makes them easy targets for exploitation. The Break the Chain Campaign (formerly the Campaign for Migrant Domestic Workers Rights), an organization that publicizes the plight of these workers in the United States, reports that most domestic workers are poor women from developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America who enter the United States on temporary visas. Once paperwork is filed for their visas, international institutions and embassies take a “hands-off” approach to the plight of these domestic workers.


International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. Adopted by General Assembly resolution 45/158 of 18 December 1990.

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Content by Mini Singh
Research Analyst, FSE

Content in Arabic by Raja El Habti
Research Assistant, FSE