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A Story of Justice and Victory

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There’s a lot of bad news in the world. Employers treat employees horribly around the world and it is mostly getting worse thanks to the global sourcing of production. Domestic employees are often even more exploited. But sometimes it does get better. Such as in Colombia, where this is a story worth celebrating:

Since Ms. Roa quit her last job as a maid in 2005, she has had remarkable success in getting the Colombian government and ordinary citizens to wrestle with that question and reconsider how domestic workers ought to be treated, as a matter of principle and under the law.

Ms. Roa didn’t set out to become an activist or a labor leader. During her first months of unemployment, she heard plenty of harrowing tales from other maids. When a labor organization interviewed her as part of a research study, she wondered whether it might be possible to form a union.

“We are invisible; it’s as though we don’t exist,” Ms. Roa recalls telling other domestic workers. “If we show the state what we go through, they’re going to realize it’s an enormous problem.”

There were plenty of skeptics, but Ms. Roa got leaders at a coalition of labor unions in Medellín to champion her cause. Their efforts, which included a social media campaign called “Let’s Talk About Domestic Workers,” began getting press coverage and the attention of policy makers.

In 2012, Colombian lawmakers agreed to adhere to an International Labour Organization treaty that set international standards for domestic workers. The following year, the Labor Ministry issued rules that require employers to provide health insurance and other standard benefits to domestic workers. The union Ms. Roa leads serves as an advocacy group, but it does not have formal bargaining authority.

This is a fight that is hardly over. It’s also a huge victory for domestic workers and an important precedent that hopefully can be applied around the world. In all the stories we discuss on the problems of the world, we also need to celebrate the victories, however rare. Those are important.

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