We have an image of human traffickers and slavers as a sleazy bunch operating in “uncivilized” regions of the world. But traffickers can also look like former ambassadors who live in swanky townhomes in Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
This report details the story of Lauro Liboon Baja Jr., who along with his wife and daughter, are charged with trafficking, forced labor, peonage and racketeering. In exchange for a $4,000 fee, the Bajas promised Marichu Suarez Baoanan a position as a “personal employee,” travel and visa assistance, and help with finding Baoanan a nursing job in the US.
Instead, Baoanan was forced to work sixteen-hour days as a domestic servant in the five-story Upper East Side townhouse that served as the consular residence and office for the Philippine Mission to the UN. She worked seven days a week, was made to sleep in the cold basement with only a blanket for warmth, and was subject to verbal abuse whenever she asked about the promised nursing job.
Sadly, Baoanan’s case is not uncommon.
Via Sudy, you can read about another case of the trafficking of migrant workers here. The New York-based DAMAYAN Migrant Workers Association estimates that there are an estimated 30,000 Filipinos working as domestic helpers in the US. Because of the informal nature of domestic work, migrant workers like Marichu Suarez Baoanan are vulnerable to abuse.
What is to be done?
DAMAYAN has joined forces with other workers’ groups to campaign for a domestic workers’ union. Many of these organizations had been lobbying for legislation to protect the labor rights of domestic workers. GABRIELA Network USA’s Purple Rose Campaign strives to address the trafficking of Filipinas through raising awareness, activism, fundraising, and education activities both in the US and in the Philippines.
Both groups agree that addressing the economic factors that push Filipinas into taking such risks is key. “We drew the connection between advancing our rights and welfare and giving a global perspective on the roots of our problems: the extreme poverty and lack of employment back home,” said Linda Abad, a labor organizer with DAMAYAN.
GABNet additionally been critical of how the organized feminist movement in the US has ignored the “function of the International Monetary Fund/World Bank and the World Trade Organization in warping the economies of countries like the Philippines, so that poverty becomes endemic and an endless supply of poor and desperate women are created, for the global sex trade and the international labor market.”
Until such push factors are recognized and addressed, women like Marichu Suarez Baoanan will continue to be vulnerable to human traffickers.