The Right to Development Is A Fundamental Right of FDWs

APMM Press Statement

10 December 2015


On occasion that marks International Human Rights Day, the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM) cannot but focus on the plight of millions of foreign domestic workers (FDWs) in the region who are hardest hit by human rights violations on a systematic scale. Considered as “modern-day slaves” by migrant and human rights advocates, FDWS have hogged the headlines this year due to rampant abuses committed by employers, the private sector and state agencies.

While campaigns for foreign domestic workers’ rights (FDWs) in 2015 brought in some significant victories, these pale in comparison to unaddressed issues that are deeply rooted in a global system of forced labor migration. The favorable conclusion of Erwiana Sulistyaningsih’s case in Hong Kong was a landmark legal and political triumph, and showcased what a well-organized and grassroots-based human rights advocacy campaign can achieve. On the obverse side, there was the loss of similar legal cases such as those of Kartika and Rowena Uychiat, as well as the suspicious deaths of several FDWs in Hong Kong and Singapore, that manifests fundamental shortcomings and flaws in the political-legal environment in many migrant-receiving territories.

For FDWs all over the world, the attainment of concrete and comprehensive human rights guarantees remains a dazzling mirage, and further grassroots-based advocacy is needed in the coming years to progress beyond individual case victories. As a major campaign in the region, the ratification of the ILO Domestic Workers’ Convention (C189) also has to make a qualitative leap from mere adoption to monitoring of implementation, aside from ensuring that the number of ratifying countries do add up in the coming years.

There is no shortage of statutes that formally guarantee human rights protection for FDWs, but most states that adopt these are still stuck in the same basic formula that drives labor migration forward: the ideology of neoliberalism and “migration for development”. For as long as long-standing push factors such as social injustices fester in sending countries and labor flexibilization rules in receiving countries, FDWs and other migrant workers will remain a convenient source of cheap and docile labor that caters to dirty, demeaning and dangerous (3D) jobs in developed areas of the world.

Human rights principles span the whole gamut of concerns in the FDW migrant subsector, and is not just about responding to cases of abuse in their foreign workplaces. That most FDWS in the region are from underdeveloped rural areas such as in South and Southeast Asia has been a well-established fact for decades, and this points to a concrete correlation between the need to economic fundamentals in sending countries on more solid footing, especially genuine land reform and national industrialization. This points to the Right to Development as one of the fundamental human rights of FDWs everywhere.

On the other hand, the Rights to Development also applies to local workers in receiving countries who are often pitted by their own governments against FDWs and other migrant workers. Neoliberal prescriptions for “managing” labor in development countries that promote labor flexibilization and other schemes to cheapen local labor must be rejected, as they act as negative pull factors that are aimed at lowering wages, furthering unemployment and worsening working conditions of labor in general.

APMM believes that in order for International Human Rights Day to become more relevant among FDWs and other migrant workers, all stakeholders involved in migration must work to eliminate the social, political and economic factors that fuel forced labor migration. For a fundamental shift from profit- to rights-based approach on migration to commence, countries at both ends of the migration flow must stop regarding FDWs and other migrants as a source of development finance, and start regarding them as symptoms of failed development models that must be replaced and retooled.

This Human Rights Day, let us promote the Right to Development among FDWs and their right to be treated not as household slaves but as workers who fully deserve a bright future as productive citizens in their own countries. It is a vision that APMM will always demand and strive for, in partnership with grassroots migrant organizations and advocates not only in the region, but globally as well. #



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