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Reporting for this project was supported by JournalismFund Europe’s Modern Slavery Unveiled Grant Programme and the Pulitzer Center.
MANILA, Philippines – Millions of workers across the world leave their countries in hopes of finding better opportunities abroad. If one were to work as a domestic worker under a diplomat, it could be considered a fortunate position, as consular officials are also at the forefront of taking care of workers of the same nationality in their assigned countries.
Whatever rights a domestic worker has in a foreign country, many diplomats would know. But sometimes, it is the supposed protectors themselves who endanger them.
For decades, erring diplomats have been able to exploit their migrant domestic workers and have gotten away with it, owing to a privilege called diplomatic immunity.
Under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, ambassadors and staff of international organizations benefit from different levels of diplomatic immunity while in their receiving country. This protects them from civil and criminal suits while performing their official duties in their assigned states.
Because of this privilege, abused domestic workers are left feeling helpless during times when they need to muster strength to exact accountability.
Rappler’s cross-country investigation written by journalist Ana P. Santos, Rappler multimedia reporter Michelle Abad, and Rappler forensics researcher Pauline Macaraeg cuts across issues such as the extent of abuse, the complicity of sending states, and the fate of workers after their escape.
What is diplomatic immunity?
Diplomatic immunity allows diplomats and employees of international organizations to perform their official duties without fear of criminal or civil suit.
Read this explainer to learn more:
In Rappler’s four-part investigation, findings from a database are complemented by accounts of migrant domestic workers who experienced exploitation from their diplomat employers.
Despite the improbability of them reaching a favorable resolution, they came forward, consenting to be named, and determined to speak out about the injustices they lived through.
Escape is the only way out of domestic servitude for many migrant domestic workers employed by abusive diplomats and employees of international organizations.
Data show that diplomatic immunity has protected many abusive diplomats from prosecution. The complicity of their sending countries has also helped them get away with impunity.
Rappler’s investigation revealed hundreds of reports of migrant workers across nationalities and timelines who experienced exploitation from their diplomat employers.
The types of abuse ranged from wage theft, overwork, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and deprivation of basic needs, among others.
Diplomats and officials of international organizations traffick, abuse, and exploit their migrant domestic workers, shielded by diplomatic immunity and their sending countries.
Whether in their host countries or back home in the Philippines, justice is elusive for Filipino migrant domestic workers exploited by diplomats. When diplomats are Filipinos themselves, impunity is further enabled by the government that chooses to look away.
DOCUMENTARY: How diplomats use diplomatic immunity to get away with domestic worker exploitation
Newsbreak Chats: How, why diplomats get away with exploiting migrant workers
Rappler investigative head Chay Hofileña sits down with Santos, Abad, and Macaraeg about their investigation into the situation of Filipino migrant workers abused by their diplomat employers.
EXPLAINER: Paano nakatatakas ang mga diplomat na nang-aabuso ng kanilang kasambahay?
From extorting money to counting slices of bread to make sure their domestic worker didn’t eat one, diplomats resort to absurd and shameless ways to cheat domestic workers out of their wages. – Rappler.com