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Article

4 Jan 2022

Author:
Human Rights Watch

Lebanon: Tens of thousands of migrant workers trapped in highly abusive conditions due to restrictive and exploitative Kafala system

"Lebanon’s Abusive Kafala (Sponsorship) System" 4 January 2022

Lebanon’s restrictive and exploitative kafala (sponsorship) system traps tens of thousands of migrant domestic workers in highly abusive conditions amounting, at worst, to modern slavery. The law fails to protect the workers, and the establishment has no interest in changing the current system.

Lebanon’s Labour Ministry estimates that the country hosts 250,000 migrant domestic workers, the majority of them women from Africa and Asia...the Labour Law specifically excludes migrant domestic workers, denying them protections that other workers are entitled to, including a minimum wage, limits on working hours, a weekly rest day, overtime pay, and freedom of association. Instead, their status in Lebanon is regulated by the kafala system...Workers cannot leave or change jobs without their employers’ consent...

The high degree of control over workers’ lives under the kafala system has led to cases of human trafficking, forced labour, exploitation and more...Amidst Lebanon’s economic crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic, incidents of such abuse against migrant domestic workers have increased...

Employers have abandoned hundreds of workers outside consulates or embassies, often without money, passports, their belongings, or tickets for the flight back to their home countries...

The exploitation and abuse under the kafala system has led many workers to commit suicide or die while trying to escape their employers. A 2008 Human Rights Watch investigation found that one domestic worker dies every week from unnatural causes, with suicide and attempted escapes being the most common...

The kafala system and the exclusion of domestic workers from the provisions of the labour law violate human rights treaties and labour conventions that Lebanon has signed, including those abolishing forced labour. They also violate the principle of non-discrimination, and the right to just and favourable work conditions.