Open Letter to Secretary of State John Kerry
As a workers’ organization that fights labor and human trafficking, we were deeply disappointed to find that you chose to honor former Ambassador Somduth Soborun of the Republic of Mauritius at a farewell reception at the State Department last month. Ambassador Soborun was accused of human trafficking and pled guilty to the charge of abusing his domestic employee, forcing her to work more than 12 hours per day, seven days per week, without paying her the minimum wage or overtime to which she was contractually and legally entitled. Such abusive employers should not be honored before their grateful colleagues at farewell receptions - they should be decried as the embarrassment to the diplomatic community that they are.
The testimony of CV, now a Damayan member and formerly Ambassador Soborun’s domestic employee, paints a picture of his home as a workplace of fear, humiliation, and abuse. CV was forced to work extremely long hours, cleaning, cooking, doing laundry, ironing, and caring for the family dog. She was not paid the wages to which she and the Ambassador had agreed, nor was she paid enough to meet the legally mandated minimum wage. While CV worked many more than forty hours each week, she was not paid the overtime wages to which she was entitled. CV stayed in this abusive workplace because Ambassador Soborun held her there by seizing her passport and threatening that if she dared to leave the house an alarm would sound and she would be arrested. In short, CV was a modern day slave, trapped working for a man who yelled at her, called her names, and threw objects at her. And you, Secretary Kerry, in an affront to justice, honored such a man.
Secretary Kerry, it does not go unnoticed that less than a month before you honored and congratulated a known trafficker, you emphasized the horrors of trafficking and the importance of prosecuting traffickers, saying in your remarks at the release of the 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report, “There cannot be impunity for those who traffic in human beings.” We could not agree more, and we are outraged by the hypocrisy of giving a trafficker not only impunity but commendation.
In your own words, “We each have a responsibility to make this horrific and all-too-common crime [human trafficking] a lot less common.” Indeed, combatting human trafficking will require countless acts of courage and commitment from survivors, community groups, employers, and government agencies. The Department of State should lead courageously by censuring those in the diplomatic community who enslave and abuse their domestic workers. It should be unnecessary to have to ask.
Furthermore, we ask that you suspend Mauritius from the A3/G5 visa program, as stated in Section 203 of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008. Countries whose diplomats unrepentantly traffic domestic workers should not have the privilege of bringing future workers into this country. It is the role of the Department of State to stand on the side of vulnerable workers, protect them from becoming victims of trafficking, and to condemn their employers - no matter how powerful - when they do abuse their domestic workers.
Supporting organizations and individuals
Domestic Workers United
DRUM-Desis Rising Up and Moving
Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees
Jews for Racial and Economic
Latin Women in Action
New Immigrant Community Empowerment
T'ruah: Rabbinical Call for Human Rights
Women Organized to Resist and Defend (WORD)
Families For Freedom
Alexandra Grant Esq.
Photo credits to www.cnn.com and www.iisd.ca