NEW YORK — On Tuesday, The New York Sun featured a story entitled, "Ex-Ambassador Enslaved an Immigrant, Lawsuit Claims," spotlighting the questionable labor practices some U.N. member states follow here in the U.S.
In the report, The Sun claims that Marichu Baoanan, a Filipino immigrant, had filed a lawsuit against the former Philippine U.N. ambassador Lauro Baja who served at the world body from 2003-2006.
According to the Sun, Baoanan claims that she was held as a de-facto slave during a three-month period in 2006 when she worked as a "domestic" for the Baja family in New York City.
In a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Baoanan claimed that her employment amounted to "involuntary servitude, forced labor, debt bondage, slavery, and psychological abuse," when she worked at the ambassador's residence on the Upper East Side.
New York City officials say such complaints are not surprising.
A key member of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's staff (who wished to remain anonymous) explained that diplomatic immunity may protect the Baja family. While diplomatic immunity normally covers only those engaged in official activities, it can cover others related to but not directly involved in such activities.
"It all depends on what kind of visa she entered the U.S. with," the source explained. It also depends on what kind of visa the Philippine government requested.
In other words, if Baoanan entered the U.S. on a diplomatic visa, there is little U.S. courts can do to help her. "The State Department is always reluctant to get involved in such situations because of the fear of retaliation against U.S. personnel serving in the country at issue," the source told Newsmax.
Cheap or de facto slave labor is nothing new in the diplomatic community. In the mid-1990s, China constructed a new U.N. mission in Midtown, near the East River.
Word spread that the construction workers used on the project had been imported from China and were paid around $1 per hour, when the going local rate was more than 30 times that.
Then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani successfully sued the Chinese government in federal court. Forced to upgrade the pay for the workers, the Chinese sent most home and had locals finish the construction.
It seems Giuliani convinced the court that the Chinese construction site was not occupied by diplomats and as such, did not yet enjoy diplomatic status. The site was part of a real estate swap with a local developer who had yet to turn the title over to Beijing.
Today, China's U.N. mission staff is among the lowest paid of the so-called "Perm 5" (the United States, France, Russia, Britain, and China — the five veto-wielding nations in the U.N.) yet China’s U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya enjoys the life of a modern emperor as presides over one of the largest apartments in Donald Trump's World Tower overlooking U.N. headquarters.
At China's consulate on the West Side, more than 300 staffers from the mainland run one of Beijing's largest operations overseas under little pay and questionable working conditions, but officials can do little about it.
Smaller nations, such as North Korea, literally shield their staff from outside contact preferring to move in supervised groups around Manhattan and living in communal apartments.
It is not known if their staff receive any pay at all.
When Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos was toppled in 1986, officials were surprised to find a private staff maintaining the president's personal mansion just off Fifth Avenue.
The domestics had diplomatic visas, but worked for little pay and were allowed to live in the home that the new Philippine government eventually seized, then auctioned off. About the only recourse short of expulsion available to Washington is to publicly embarrass offending diplomats in the court of public opinion:
"Sometimes [the diplomats] care, but often they don't and Washington is reluctant to go after them. It is just a fact of life," lamented the anonymous source.
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