Slavery in Lebanon

At least 200,000 thousand women are migrant (domestic) workers in Lebanon.  Why? In order to escape poverty and get money to support their family, women have come to Lebanon. But, women are now in a “different type of jail”( as described by one migrant worker). According to statistics, one migrant worker per week is dying in Lebanon. Reportedly, workers are taking their own life in order to escape from their employer.

At the airport, women have to hand over their passport to their employer. From that moment on, these domestic workers are ‘slaves’ to their employer. Women enter into their employer’s household and may never leave. Instead of having a day off or being able to leave the house, women are subjected to sexual harassment, physical and verbal abuse, and may not even receive their salary.

One woman, who wants to remain secret because of her overwhelming fear of her safety, has spoke out about her experience. She stated that her employer was sexual harassing her and when his wife found out about his advances he beat them both. This is just one of the tragic stories. This woman is one of the lucky ones who escaped her employer and now is living in a safe house.  Since 1994, safe houses were set up in Lebanon to provide help specifically for migrant workers.

Countries such as the Philippines have responded to this situation by banning their citizens from going to Lebanon as migrant workers. While the Lebanon government claims that their labor law will be improved, at this time there is no real protection for migrant workers. Yet, in 2009 employers must follow new standard contracts when hiring migrant workers. But, the procedures fail to provide adequate protection for migrant workers. Instead, women are not being paid on time and can remain inside the house from the day they arrive.  Without procedures set forth by the government, employers have not and may never give their workers human rights.

These are real victims and not just allegations. Watch the video below for first hand accounts of the situation in Lebanon.

What can the international community do to stop this? Would you consider this slavery? Will international pressure stop these practices?

Click here to see the atrocities first hand.


  1. It is unfortunate that these women must take these jobs in Lebanon and be abused in order to support their families, but with the current state of affairs I think it is time that women seek jobs elsewhere until the labor laws are reformed. It may not even be beneficial for their families for them to take these types of jobs because some of the women are not given their salaries on time. If the whole point of taking this abuse is to make money that purpose seems frustrated. In addition, not many people should be willing to sacrifice their own physical, mental, and emotional health just for some money that they may eventually get.

    This situation does somewhat resemble slavery to me. These women are not free to leave when they want, and if they do leave they most likely will forfeit payment for any work they had done up until that point. The employers abuse these women and have no one to answer to for their despicable actions. I think more countries need to take the same approach as the Philippines in order to spark action by the government in terms of labor law reforms and enforcement. If Lebanon were no longer able to attract workers they might stop turning a blind eye to the abuse of the migrant workers.

  2. Before acting the international community must keep in mind the potential difficulty Lebanon faces in enforcing its labor laws. My concern is with the application of the laws in the Lebanese society. The fact that these activities have been present in the country for quite some time and the labor regulations have only recently been legislated indicates that the treatment of migrant women may be acceptable in at least parts of that society. Will there be continued social resistance, in particular by those who are expected to enforce the laws, thus leading to practically ineffective regulations?

    I do think, however, that the international community can pressure the Lebanese government through mechanisms such as embargoes. This type of action would encourage (or force) the Lebanese government to insure an effective implementation of the nations’ recently formulated employment contracts. Should this legislation then prove to be inadequate or ineffective, the international community may need to push the boundaries of national sovereignty and implement its own regulations.

  3. Domestic slave labor is particularly frightening because it is so hard to regulate, as it happens behind closed doors in people’s homes. It is so terrible to see people being taken advantage of and abused by their employers when they are only trying to make a better life for their families. It is a reoccurring theme though, for all kinds of migrant workers.

    In terms of what the international community can do, I think it is very little. The idea in the Philippines of banning your citizens from going to work in that particular country seems like a good one but only helps prevent people from going to work in Lebanon in particular. While not the subject of this article, there are human rights violations of migrant workers in a lot more countries that just Lebanon. So a solution like that would not totally solve the problem. Part of the solution for Lebanon would be to create more safe houses and to have job training programs for these women at the safe houses so that they can get trained to do another kind of work when they go home to their country. I have seen a great documentary which explores this sort of thing in regard to brothels in India in which the women that were brought to the safe houses were taught the skills needed to set up their own businesses so that they could have a trade when they returned to their villages.

    Apart from local programs I am not sure what could be done on an international scale to remedy issues of slave labor in homes as it is very difficult to regulate what goes on in someones home.

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