migrant workers

Diplomatic immunity and impunity – a Rappler series

Rappler Investigative Team

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

Diplomatic immunity and impunity – a Rappler series
Erring diplomats have been able to exploit their migrant domestic workers and have gotten away with it because of diplomatic immunity. Check out Rappler's investigative series to learn more.

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:

EXPLAINER: What is diplomatic immunity and what does it have to do with migrant domestic work?

EXPLAINER: What is diplomatic immunity and what does it have to do with migrant domestic work?

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.

Part 1: For many abused migrant domestic workers, the only way out is to flee

Escape is the only way out of domestic servitude for many migrant domestic workers employed by abusive diplomats and employees of international organizations.

Part 2: How diplomats who traffick, exploit domestic workers get away

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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.

Part 3: When diplomats are traffickers, migrant domestic workers are enslaved

Clothing, Vest, Advertisement

Diplomats and officials of international organizations traffick, abuse, and exploit their migrant domestic workers, shielded by diplomatic immunity and their sending countries.

Part 4: At home, and still no justice for migrant domestic workers

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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
Diplomatic immunity and impunity – a Rappler series
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.

Diplomatic immunity and impunity – a Rappler series
EXPLAINER: Paano nakatatakas ang mga diplomat na nang-aabuso ng kanilang kasambahay?
Diplomatic immunity and impunity – a Rappler series

‘Cheaplomats’: The extent envoys go to avoid paying their domestic workers

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

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