In this article, the author discusses how South Korean migrant advocacy that has emerged since the mid-1990s relied on mobilizing the moral responsibility of local civil society and the state on the dehumanizing conditions of foreign workers—most of whom are from China, Southeast Asia, South Asia, and the former Soviet Union. I ask first, what were the ways that migrant advocacy groups that emerged in the aftermath of the Myongdong protest translated the problem of the human rights of the foreign worker? Second, what can those narratives that became dominant in Korea say about the problem of human rights more broadly? The foreign worker is neither entitled to the national rights of the host country, which Hannah Arendt argued so forcefully is the basis for one's human rights (1951), nor do the international conventions that recognize the rights of migrants have effective legal force. Under such conditions, and as the author shows in this article, it is the narrative of the suffering of foreign workers and the shame of Koreans that most effectively responded to the state and other actors' abuses against foreign workers. Overall, this article suggests that the emergent postcolonial ethics of shame and responsibility that appeals to the common history of suffering and hardship between South Koreans and migrants should be rethought as a political process of re-reconciling the claims of rights of the foreign worker under the state's economic interest and sovereignty.

This content is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.