The New Legal World of Domestic Work

44 Pages Posted: 17 Nov 2020

See all articles by Shayak Sarkar

Shayak Sarkar

University of California, Davis - School of Law

Date Written: July 1, 2020


Domestic workers, disproportionately foreign women, have long been accorded a place in our households, but not in our law. Nearly a century ago, the New Deal and Civil.Rights statutes excluded this female labor force from worker protections. More generally, migrant domestic workers around the world have often found themselves with little protection under national or international law. Yet a subtle shift has taken hold in recent decades, as domestic workers bring home the legal world around them.

This Article uncovers how domestic workers redistribute power within private households and beyond in ways that influence international lawmaking. It focuses on the scope of diplomatic immunity in domestic workers' lawsuits; the newly vindicated rights of au pairs; and, finally, bilateral treaties between exporters and importers of domestic labor. Across these three arenas, this Article shows how domestic workers reorient conceptions of self-, household, and national sovereignty to build a new legal world of domestic work. The three forms of sovereignty provide a vocabulary to describe how domestic workers are bringing public law from far-off corners into our most private places. In doing so, they are enhancing their own self-sovereignty and challenging that of households and nations.

Keywords: domestic work, sovereignty, bilateral labor agreements, au pairs, preemption, diplomatic immunity, trafficking, international public law, employment law, migrant workers

JEL Classification: f22, f53, f66, j13, j46, j47, j61, j80, k31, k33

Suggested Citation

Sarkar, Shayak, The New Legal World of Domestic Work (July 1, 2020). Yale Journal of Law & Feminism, Vol. 32, No. 1, 2020, Available at SSRN:

Shayak Sarkar (Contact Author)

University of California, Davis - School of Law ( email )

Martin Luther King, Jr. Hall
Davis, CA CA 95616-5201
United States

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