Here's the question: There is a household servant, working for a diplomat from an undisclosed nation, who is being horribly exploited by her employer — a live-in worker denied a room of her own, who is ill-paid, and works impossible hours — what should be done about it?
The woman is experiencing what might be called involuntary servitude.
Though I look forward to "The Ethicist" column in the New York Times Magazine each Sunday, and think well of the author, I disagree with Kwame Anthony Appiah's approach to the matter just described in his April 7 column.
While he is aware of her exact visa status (she has an A-3), and the extent of the abuse, and realizes that she might be kicked out of the country if she complains, Appiah does not suggest that the reader take any action in the matter: "[Y]our worries about doing the nanny more harm than good are, alas, well founded."
My disagreement comes at two levels; 1) this is not just a problem for the individual servant, it is part of a wider field of social injustice, and should be addressed as such; and 2) there is a way that the servant could seek justice and quite legally stay in the United States that Appiah must not know about.
Appiah approaches the problem as if it were a one-off problem — maybe that is what you do if you write a column about ethics — but I feel that the reader should have been told to take the complaint to all suitable authorities, the State Department, state-level worker's rights agencies, and perhaps the press, so as to bring pressure on diplomats generally not to treat their servants as if they were slaves. The Huffington Post wrote an excellent piece on just such a situation several years ago.
Now, I am not saying that the servant's interests should be ignored. Frankly, she could not be much worse off than she is now, but there is an immigration-related remedy to the matter. She should, after talking to an immigration lawyer, seek a U visa as a crime victim; this would give her temporary legal status (leading in the long run to a green card) and the right to work legally in the United States.
The U visa is often abused, but here is a clear-cut case of a totally legitimate use of it.