The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirate - rely heavily on migrant labour, largely from South and South-East Asia. There are an estimated 20 million migrant workers in the Gulf; they account for 10% migrants globally and up to 90% of the manual labour force in the Gulf.
Despite making significant contributions to the economic development of their host countries and to remittance outflows to their home countries, migrant workers face abuse, discrimination and exploitation by unscrupulous employers, facilitated by the kafala (sponsorship) system, as well as significant obstacles to accessing justice and remedy when abuses occur.
Migrant workers in the Gulf construction sector are particularly at risk of labour exploitation; new stadiums, state-of-the-art exhibition venues, modern transport links and all other major construction projects in the Gulf are built by migrants. Reforms introduced by governments in the region in recent years fall short of providing adequate protection for migrant workers. Many construction companies – both national and international – fail to meet their responsibilities under the UN Guiding Principles for Business & Human Rights, putting profits ahead of worker welfare. Low wage construction workers remain vulnerable to abuse and exploitation including withheld wages, heat stress and other health and safety concerns, restricted mobility, lack of access to grievance mechanisms, and substandard living conditions.
By The Numbers (January 2016 - March 2023)
These numbers are based on publicly reported allegations of labour rights abuse against migrant workers in the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE), in which businesses are implicated. The actual numbers of incidents of abuse and affected migrant workers are believed to be higher. Cases included date from January 2016. If you would like more information on reading and accessing the data or would like to submit a case to the tracker, please contact us.
Have been recorded in our database regarding migrant worker abuse by companies in the Gulf since 2016
Impacted in the documented cases
Migrant workers most commonly report withheld, delayed or non-payment of wages (526 cases)
Denial of Freedoms
Withholding passports, non-renewal of visas & preventing protests or strikes all threaten workers' fundamental freedoms (332 cases)
Gulf Allegations Tracker
We've been tracking cases of abuse in the Gulf since 2016; read more about our methodology and analysis here
Qatar & the UAE: Worker welfare in construction & hotels
Reports and recommendations for upholding worker welfare standards in the construction and hotel sectors
Qatar World Cup Parallel Portal
In November 2022 Qatar hosted the FIFA World Cup. But behind sanitised images celebrating global diversity, serious human rights concerns remained, particularly in relation to the treatment of the two million migrant workers who worked to support the tournament under unfair and harsh conditions.
- NGO Equidem details widespread labour abuses against migrant workers in Qatar, Saudi Arabia & UAE, criticises govts’ COVID-19 response
- Rights group issues recommendations to ensure fair access to the COVID-19 vaccine for migrant & domestic workers
- NGO launches campaign for GCC states to abolish absconding charges brought against workers by employers
- Lack of holistic healthcare for pregnant migrant workers & new-mothers leaves women dependent on charitable aid