The indentured mobility of migrant domestic workers: The case of Dubai

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

5 Scopus citations


Introduction In fall 2014, Human Rights Watch released a scathing report, titled I Already Bought You, describing the conditions of domestic work in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Eliciting moral outrage against slavery and trafficking, the report is best described as a laundry list of abuses, which include physical and sexual abuse, wage theft, forced contract substitution, overwork, and imprisonment. The report suggests that almost all domestic workers in the region are trafficked and enslaved. A few months after the release of the report, the largest source country of migrant domestic workers in the world - Indonesia - imposed a 21-country ban against the migration of Indonesian women for domestic work into the region, decrying the abuse of Indonesian workers. Human Rights Watch, along with most other migrant rights organizations, viewed this protectionist ban as discriminatory (Varia 2015). Migrant domestic workers in the Middle East have been argued to be among the world’s most susceptible groups to trafficking and slavery. Various stakeholders offer different solutions for their protection and the prevention of their abuse. For instance, Human Rights Watch calls for more protective legislation (Human Rights Watch 2014). Meanwhile, the government of the Philippines advocates for the implementation of their domestic labor standards via bilateral agreements with receiving countries. In this chapter, we enter this ongoing discussion and examine the conditions of migrant domestic work in Dubai, relying on in-depth interviews conducted with eighty-five Filipina and seventy-nine Indonesian domestic workers. By utilizing empirically grounded research, we are able to foreground not just the structures that entrench the vulnerability of these workers but also the everyday dynamics of their employment relations. We view workers not solely or primarily as passive victims and instead recognize them as acting subjects. Our chapter calls attention to the status of migrant domestic workers as tied workers, a status which without question leaves them vulnerable to abuse. As tied workers, domestic workers in the UAE are bound to work solely for their sponsoring employer and cannot change jobs without their employer’s permission. However, rather than characterizing their status as slavery or human trafficking, we argue instead that the condition of tied work is more accurately viewed as a form of “indentured mobility” (Parreñas 2011).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationRevisiting the Law and Governance of Trafficking, Forced Labor and Modern Slavery
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781316675809
ISBN (Print)9781107160545
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


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