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The New Arab

Online 'slave trade' exposed in Kuwait

Kuwait is under consistent fire for a lack of oversight on workers rights [Getty]

Date of publication: 5 November, 2019

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An 'e-slave trade' has been exposed in Kuwait with people developing apps and starting social media accounts and hashtags to buy and sell domestic workers.
A growing online slave trade scene in Kuwait has sparked concerns, with people developing apps and hashtags to buy and sell foreign blue-collar workers online.

For foreigners to work in Kuwait, they need to be sponsored by a Kuwaiti in what is called the Kafala system.

The workers, already lacking basic human rights and are forced to work in abysmal conditions, are vulnerable to being bought and sold by other Kuwaitis by simply transferring their sponsorship to their new "employers".

According to a report by the BBC which exposed the illegal scene, domestic workers are commodified on an app called 4sale with Arabic posts describing the ethnicity, age and skills of the worker.

To advertise the worker, some have even taken to extremes to say the worker does not "need" basic human rights such as days off, going out or needing a phone to contact family.

"You can wake her up at 5am and she won’t even have a problem, works all day long with no fuss," one advertisement said.

People conducting the online slave trade have also taken to social media to sell workers with designated accounts and hashtags. 

Human rights groups have documented cases of abuse against foreign workers in Kuwait but some - such as Human Rights Watch - have said the government is doing more than most in the Gulf to tackle the problem.

Kuwait has introduced a minimum wage for domestic workers, opened a refuge and hotline for "runaway maids" and given human rights workers access to the country.

But cases of extreme abuse still continue to emerge, including an infamous video showing an Ethiopian house worker left dangling from a window as she tried to escape her Kuwaiti employer's house.

The cruel implications of Kuwait's kafala system has caused a strain with its global diplomatic relations - namely Philippines.

January last year, Manila barred Filipinos from working in Kuwait whilst investigating the mysterious deaths of nationals in the Gulf state.
 
Philippines Labour Secretary Silvestre Belo said the ban would be in place "pending investigation of the causes of deaths of about six or seven of our OFWs (overseas Filipino workers)".

The ban came a day after President Rodrigo Duterte hit out at Kuwait over the treatment of Filipino workers and threatened to prevent nationals from moving to the Gulf state.

He said employer abuse in Kuwait had driven four workers to suicide, while others had suffered sexual abuse in the country.

"[We want a] state the truth and [Kuwait to] just tell them that [abuse is] not acceptable anymore," he said.

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