American University of Beirut English 20…

American University of Beirut

English 204

“Modern Slavery”


Asaad Arar


Rima Rantisi



Modern Slavery

        Slavery was one of the most widespread problems that faced people in the last century. People thought that they got rid of this problem but they were mistaken; people actually just redesigned slavery into a more refined image. In the past slavery meant that a person is owned by another person as he/she as if they were the employer property. Nowadays slavery has taken a more refined image in the mistreatment of domestic worker; which is in my opinion the “modern-day slavery”. This idea of modern slavery is a subject of worldwide debate because some groups say that these people cannot be counted as slaves because they are given good living condition, good food, and most importantly paid salaries. While the party supporting this notion of modern slavery support their claim by coinciding that these are getting paid but the amount they are getting is so negligible that it is not enough for one person to live comfortably how would a person be able to support a family on that salary. A recent study supported this claim by showing that domestic workers are one of the most underpaid workers in most countries. Another reason is that many domestic workers are promised good living condition and all the needs for their lives; but when they reach their working destination they find none of that. So in this paper I will be discussing all the reasons why these workers are truly “Modern-day Slaves” or “Contract Slaves”.

        Domestic workers have been a subject to a lot of punishment, mistreatment, and hurt from a lot of different parties; which are their employers, agencies, and the government. Each of these parties play its own and equally important role in the increase of modern slavery and an increase in its severity. Now I am going to discuss how each one of these has affected this phenomenon in details.

      First I am going to discuss the role that employers play in cementing this idea of modern slavery. In my opinion I think that this is the most stressing factor that affects this idea. Employers have always been the main source of torture to mistreated domestic workers. They mistreat them in different ways; financially, physically, verbally, and emotionally.

       First let’s discuss the financial aspect of this issue; employers are the ones that pay for their workers. Domestic workers are no exception to this rule, but the problem is that they are not treated like regular employees, so sometimes their employers stop paying them or might not pay them enough. I witnessed a case in which a maid was forced to work for over four months without pay and she was not able to do anything about it because she did not have any concrete evidence of what was happening.

         Second of all there is the physical aspect of mistreatment. This is the most severe problem facing these maids this is due to the fact that the employers think that these workers are their own personal property. This can take up many forms; it could either be by hitting them, depriving them from sleep, food, bad living conditions, and most disturbing sexual harassment. After conducting several interviews and researches I was able to deduce that over thirty five percent of domestic workers are mistreated in one way or the other. A few months back an incident happened in the U.A.E that a maid threw herself from a ten story building because of how badly she was mistreated. After hearing this story I started researching this issue and I found out some disturbing results. These results showed that this was not the first time this has happened but actually this is becoming a very common incident between mistreated domestic workers.

           The third way in which these domestic workers are mistreated is verbally. Verbally mistreatment can take up many different forms it could either be through swearing at them, making fun of them, making them, always telling them they are doing a bad job, and never telling them anything good. In order to know the effects of this type of mistreatment I interviewed a maid about this subject. The first question I asked her was that if she was mistreated in any way by her employer; she answered yes. After that I asked her how she was mistreated and by what members of the family. She told me that it was mostly verbal abuse (shouting, cursing, and mocking), and that she was abused first by them parents only but over time the children started mistreating her as well. After that I asked her how that affected her. She told me that she has learnt to live with it because she had to work to get money for her children. I concluded my question by asking her if she knew any other maids that were mistreated and why are domestic workers treated in that way. She answered by saying yes that almost all maids that she knew were mistreated in one way or the other and the main reason why these workers are mistreated is because in Lebanon where she works and in most countries around the world there is no party or side that helps domestic workers  keep and fight for their rights.

         As a result of these three types of mistreatment by employers a fourth type of suffering occurs which is emotional suffering. Here these workers would start feeling that they are worthless and no good and are not worth living.

       These are the ways in which domestic workers are mistreated by their employers. But this is only one of the parties which play a role in the increase of modern slavery; the second party that plays a role in the mistreatment of domestic workers is the agencies that get them. These workers are brought to their working destinations by agencies that work to help persuade these workers to come and work in a certain country. These agencies also play a main role in the labeling of domestic workers as modern-day slaves. There are two main ways in which these agencies help in the mistreatment of domestic workers. The first way in which these workers are mistreated by their agency because they sometimes falsely inform these workers about what they are going to do and what job opportunities they have. Because they are informed that they are going to work as domestic workers (maids, housekeepers) but when they first reach their supposed working destinations they are directly imprisoned by the agency, confiscate their passports, and make them work as prostitutes. In an article I have read a few years back in the Gulf newspaper; one of the national newspapers of the U.A.E, the article illustrated the story of a young women which came from the Philippines with the prospect of finding a job via one of these agencies in Dubai but when she reached Dubai she was directly taken from the airport to imprisonment and she was brutally hit, raped, and harassed in every possible way. After a while they started making her work as a prostitute and she was afraid to run away or go to the authorities. After a few months she had enough and was able to luckily run away, after she ran away she was able to tell her story to the authorities which went and closed down this agency. After many stories of this kind happening all around the world many international agencies have started to pay closer attention to these agencies and their actions. These workers are also promised very good living conditions, wages, and the best possible living circumstances. On the contrary when they reach their working destination they are given the exact opposite of what they are promised by their agencies, this shows the role that these agencies play in the first party I have described which is the mistreatment by employers.

         Last but not least is the government which is the third party that plays a major role in the increase of the phenomena of modern slavery. The government is the origin for all of this issue. The government plays three of the most influential roles in the rise of modern slavery. The first of these three main reasons is that these mistreated workers have many laws that stand against them even if they are the one whose rights are being stomped on. The main example for this is in the U.A.E there is a law that states that the employers have a right for compensation if their domestic worker runs away even if they are the ones whom are mistaken. The second role that the government plays is that in all countries around the world (with the exception of the U.S.A and some European countries) domestic workers are not counted in the labor force of the country so that is why they are not included in the labor laws, that why they are subject to mistreatment by their employers without anyone being able to stop this or fight this because there is no law against it, their employers might also withhold salaries and wages from their domestic workers without any official body doing anything about it. The last way the government lends a hand to this issue is purely from an economic point of view; when the government of these workers notices that its citizens are being mistreated in the country they work in their government would ban it’s workers from going there for work anymore, this is turn would lead to a decrease in the number of job opportunities for domestic workers. One of the most recent examples of this is the Philippine domestic being banned from working in Jordan in 2008 due to the mistreatment of these workers (Maid abuse led to Filipino ban in Jordan: sources”. Al Arabia , 01 March 2008).

              After discussing the parties responsible for the rise of modern slavery, a related issue that should be discussed is how to stop this growing phenomenon. Some countries have taken an initiative in this respect. One Arab country is the U.A.E, it has made a new law that any case of domestic worker violence is reported it would be taken to court and if the employer is found guilty they be fined as well as being imprisoned for a certain period of time. Another way that most countries are following nowadays is by including domestic workers under the labor laws. Another way the government would be able to stop these phenomena is by keeping a close eye on the agencies that are responsible for getting domestic workers (“UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Domestic workers face abusive employers “. 05/09/2006).

        Now that I have discussed all the issues related to modern slavery I would like to compare how it is similar to slavery. First of all what is slavery? Slavery is a form of forced labor in which people are considered to or treated as the property of others. This classical slavery slave owners are able to mistreat the slaves in whatever way they wanted. This is similar to what employers of domestic workers do when they mistreat their workers. Some people use a very common counter argument for this claim by saying these workers are unlike slaves because they are paid, and have a decent place to live in; but this argument is a very weak argument because when a person is so underpaid that he/she cannot even get their basic needs that does not mean that they are not mistreated. Another argument to refute this counter argument is when workers are mistreated that means they might not be paid their salaries, are not given good living conditions; I illustrated more about this in the section about the role of the government. Another argument is that there are agencies which protect them but this is not true because these agencies have shown over and over again that all they care about is money and do not care about these maids and housekeepers. In other words these agencies are another party that helps in making domestic workers mistreated and treated as property of their employers which is the meaning of slavery.

             In conclusion domestic workers are the one most mistreated group of workers found in our world today. Slavery is an issue that every generation has to deal with, but the problem is that every time it takes up a different image. As time passes by it is taking up an image that is more socially accepted than its predecessor.


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  • “Maid abuse led to Filipino ban in Jordan: sources”. Al Arabia , 01 March 2008
  • “UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Domestic workers face abusive employers “. 05/09/2006
  • Halabi, Romina. “Contract Enslavement of Female Migrant Domestic Workers in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates”. HUMAN RIGHTS & HUMAN WELFARE 43-58
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