I have had a curiosity for international affairs for as long as I can remember. From spending every summer in India to majoring in international affairs to studying abroad in Italy, I have sought opportunities to learn about other countries and cultures. To quench my thirst for international experiences, I interned abroad in Paris, France, and backpacked through Europe alone before returning to America. While I was sure that law school was my next step, I was nervous that it meant the end of my passion for global affairs. So when I heard about Professor Warren’s international internship program, I eagerly applied.
Fast forward to now, I’m in Dallas, attending meetings at 10 PM with my team in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Although it is not the exhilarating in-country, pre-pandemic experience that I envisioned, I have learned a lot in the two short weeks that I have been interning with the Pinkcollar Employment Agency.
Pinkcollar is Malaysia’s first ethical employment agency, eliminating debt bondage and labor trafficking from the migrant domestic worker sector. They professionalize a traditionally informal and unregulated sector by removing the unscrupulous middlemen agencies and remaining involved with the workers and employers after placement.
This summer, I am mainly responsible for creating a transparent mutual termination and grievance process which protects workers’ rights. Additionally, I will research and write materials to inform employers of their workers’ rights. Pinkcollar was a perfect fit for my values and interests because of its feminist mission and my first-hand experience with domestic workers.
Although there were several reasons that I pursued law school, my passion for feminist issues and women’s empowerment is the most significant reason. In college, I worked with survivors of sexual assault, piquing my interest in criminal law and sexual abuse litigation. However, throughout my 1L year, I began to explore the possibility of employment law as it greatly intersects with women’s rights and civil rights generally. The gendered nature of domestic work makes Pinkcollar’s mission an inherently feminist one which has the potential to elevate the status of women in Southeast Asia. Hence, Pinkcollar provides me with a way to explore this field and learn more about how employment law can promote women’s rights.
Moreover, as someone from a country with over four million domestic workers, I have witnessed how unregulated and exploitative this industry can be. Workers have very few social protections, and they suffer from poor working conditions and abuse. Even further, I noticed how many workers are illiterate or come from tribal minorities and marginalized social groups, making them further vulnerable to disempowerment. I can only imagine how much more vulnerable domestic workers become when they are in a new country and have had their passports taken away. My experience in India has given me an understanding of this issue to draw from while working for Pinkcollar.
As I adjust to using new online platforms and having meetings before bed, I have noticed a recurring theme: the importance of language in shifting societal attitudes toward marginalized groups. For instance, Filipino and Malaysian employment contracts use different terminology to describe workers and their rights. The Malaysian contract uses the term “maids” rather than “workers” and defines their rights vaguely. On the other hand, the Filipino contract stipulates their rights with great detail, such as mentioning that the required eight hours of rest must be continuous and uninterrupted. It has been fascinating to see how Pinkcollar uses this attention to detail and nuance to shift Malaysian attitudes and recognize the human rights of migrant workers.
I am excited to help create a more equitable and sustainable domestic worker section. As I go into this next week with Pinkcollar, I am grateful for the opportunity to continue growing my passion for international human rights and exploring the area of employment law.