An Untenable Space: The Domestic Labor Sector as a Site of Forced Labor for Migrants Problem representations and framing processes within Civil Society in Singapore
Abstract: As one of the primary countries of destination for migrant domestic workers in Asia, Singapore is a developed country with one of the highest standards of living in the region. Yet, the city-state has been on the receiving end of extensive criticism concerning the rights and protections of migrant domestic workers. Civil society organizations have been one of the loudest critics, and in recent public demands for change, two organizations have put forward new and controversial claims. This study centers on the two reports produced by HOME & Liberty Shared and RAB, which frame migrant domestic workers as victims of forced labor. The objectives of this study are to assess these claims by identifying and critically discussing the general problem representations inherent in the reports and by analyzing the manner in which these organizations engage in framing processes. Additionally, the study aims to examine the inevitable tensions produced between the civil society organizations and the Singapore government. Through inspiration from a ‘what’s the problem represented to be’ framework as well as frame analysis, the reports are analyzed using the theoretical concepts of isomorphism, a continuum approach and strategic essentialism. The findings suggest that the organizations differ in their problem representations, that there are fundamental tensions between the worldviews of the organizations and those of the state and that the intentional framing strategies utilized by the organizations do not adequately take into account the complexity of the subject of forced labor, which the Singapore state exploits when dismissing their claims.
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