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11 Aug 2021

Saudi Arabia: UN Special Rapporteurs on slavery, migrants & trafficking issue communication regarding risk & allegations of exploitation despite recent labour reforms

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The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, and Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children wrote to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on 7 June 2021 to raise concerns over allegations of abuse and exploitation of migrant workers and the ongoing risk of labour exploitation despite the recent labour reforms in the Kingdom.

The letter summarises the risks to migrant workers including:

  • exploitation by recruitment agencies who charge extortionately high fees to gain a job;
  • contract substitution;
  • the lack of a minimum wage in the country and non-payment of salary;
  • that contracts are often in Arabic, which many migrant workers do not understand;
  • marginalisation of female workers and salary discrimination between men and women;
  • taxes and fees charged by the Kingdom on migrant workers, resulting in debt bondage;
  • restrictions on migrant workers facilitated by the kafala system;
  • abuse and discrimination based on ethnicity and nationality in the workplace; and
  • overcrowded and poor living conditions, increasing their risk of contracting COVID-19 during the pandemic.

The letter cites cases of migrant worker abuse and, under the mandates of the Special Rapporteurs, invites the Kingdom to respond to a number of points regarding the allegations and documented risks.

On 3 August, the Permanent Mission of Saudi Arabia to the UN acknowledged the communication, requesting an extension to the deadline.