UN urges Kuwait to end 'kafala' labour system

UN urges Kuwait to end 'kafala' labour system
UN human rights experts on Wednesday urged Kuwait to redouble its efforts to prevent trafficking and exploitation of foreign workers.
2 min read
15 September, 2016
The controversial labour system has long been criticised by human rights groups [Getty]

UN rights experts on Wednesday urged Kuwait to scrap its controversial kafala sponsorship system for foreign workers.

The system binds a migrant worker to an in-country sponsor, usually their employer, who is responsible for their visa and legal status.

Workers have reported to Human Rights Watch employers have withheld passports and wages and that workers must have their sponsor's consent before taking up new employment.

Following a visit to Kuwait City, UN human rights expert Maria Grazia Giammarinaro said kafala "creates a situation of vulnerability which favours abusive and exploitative work relationships leading to human trafficking".

She said a new system to replace it should allow migrant workers to enjoy substantial freedom in the labour market.

Kuwait authorities have also been urged to step up efforts to support victims of trafficking, the majority of whom are trafficked for domestic servitude.

“Migrants in irregular situations, including some refugees, asylum-seekers and stateless persons who work informally in the Kuwaiti economy are at risk of trafficking for both labour and sexual exploitation,” Giammarinaro said.

Read more: GCC must reform laws to end trafficking

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), domestic workers comprise a significant part of the global workforce in informal employment and are among the most vulnerable groups of workers.

They work for private households, cleaning, cooking, taking care of children or sick family members - often without clear terms of employment, unregistered in any book, and excluded from the scope of labour legislation.

Kuwait has been praised for its “commitment” so far to protecting migrant workers. It has established two shelters, which to date has received more than 7,000 domestic workers feeling their employees.

“This accomplishment is even more significant given that exploitation of domestic workers is prevalent in the region,” Giammarinaro said.

But Kuwait could do more.

As well as replacing kafala, she also called on the government to offer workers “real alternatives” to deportation when they are not willing to return, including dropping existing charges filed by their employers.

The Government has also been encouraged to place domestic work, which is currently overseen by the Ministry of Interior, under the Ministry of Labour and the Public Authority for Manpower to “recognise the equal rights of domestic workers”.

The Special Rapporteur will present a final report on her visit to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2017.