Skip to main content

Making History through Policy: A Field Report on the International Domestic Workers Movement

  • Jennifer N. Fish (a1)

Paid household labor has fertilized the development of national economies, while also nourishing the capitalist labor systems that has allowed globalization to thrive. However, this transnational sector has remained historically invisible, devalued, and unprotected from national and international legislative frameworks. In 2010, the International Labor Organization (ILO) finally embraced this challenge through two years of negotiations on the world's first international convention to assure “Decent Work for Domestic Workers.” These tripartite debates set the stage for the largest inclusion of “actual workers” in policy making. The debates also mobilized the world's first international domestic workers’ movement. This report from the field highlights a distinct process whereby workers themselves played a pivotal role in the creation of international labor policy. According to International Domestic Workers Federation president Myrtle Witbooi, this “new beginning” set “a benchmark for decent work and social equality.”

Hide All


1. Public Address to the 100th Session of the ILC, June 9, 2011.

2. International Domestic Workers NetWork, “Platform of Demands,” (accessed June 1, 2010).

3. All quotes are taken from my participation in the 2010 and 2011 ILC negotiations on Decent Work for Domestic Workers and the accompanying daily meetings of the International Domestic Workers Network.

4. Juan Somavia, statement to the ILC Committee on Domestic Workers, June 3, 2010.

5. Elisabeth Prügl, Speech at the Poster Exhibit sponsored by the International Working Group of Domestic Workers, Maison Des Associations, Geneva, June 9, 2010.

6. Boris, Eileen and Fish, Jennifer N., “Domestic Workers Go Global: The Birth of the International Domestic Workers Federation,” New Labor Forum 23 (2014): 7781 .

7. Luc Decartes, former official of the ILO Bureau for Worker's Activities (ACTRAV), indicated in a 2012 personal interview that the presence of domestic workers generated the largest “political will” behind any Convention process in the history of the ILO. In his assessment, this played a central role in the Convention's overwhelming support and 2011 adoption.

8. Excerpts taken from the 2010 final statements employers group at the 2010 ILC.

9. IDWN President Myrtle Witbooi, statement to the Domestic Workers Committee at the 2011 ILC.

10. Opening comments to the ILC Committee on Domestic Work, June 2, 2010.

11. Statement to the 2011 ILC Workers Group for the Committee on Domestic Workers.

12. These interview excerpts are drawn from the transcripts of Mary Goldsmith, from her 2011 personal interview with Escorel de Moraes at the 2011 ILC. Original Spanish interviews translated by Raquel Perez-Lopez, Old Dominion University.

13. ILC 100th Session Record of Proceedings, 1102.

14. Personal interview conducted by Mary Goldsmith, June 15, 2011.

15. Hand in Hand web site, (accessed November 11, 2014).

16. This excerpt is drawn from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Panel Discussion at the ILC, Tuesday, June 7, 2011.

17. I borrow this phrase from the October 16–17, 2014, “Justice in the Home: Domestic Workers Past, Present and Future” conference held at Barnard College, New York.

18. Louise McDonough, Closing statement, 2011 ILC. “PR No. 6—First and Second plenary sitting of the 100th Session of the International Labour Conference.” July 9,2015).

19. Workers Group meeting of the Committee on Domestic Workers, June 10, 2010.

20. Juan Somavia statement to the 2011 Committee on Domestic Work, June 1, 2011.

21. Committee on Domestic Work Chairperson, Mr. H.L. Cacdac, in response to Juan Somavia, June 1, 2011.

22. Paul MacKay, Employer Chair, opening statements in the ILC Committee on Domestic Work, June 1, 2011.

23. Hester Stephens, personal interview, June 16, 2011.

24. Ibid .

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

International Labor and Working-Class History
  • ISSN: 0147-5479
  • EISSN: 1471-6445
  • URL: /core/journals/international-labor-and-working-class-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed