SARA: Social Accountability for Recruitment Agencies
In Kuwait, domestic workers play an important role in society by contributing to the country’s wealth and lifestyle. The country with a population of only 1.3 million citizens, employs more than 660,000 domestic workers, representing one domestic worker for every two Kuwaiti citizens, holding the second largest number of domestic workers in the Middle East after Saudi Arabia.
Globally, domestic workers, a vast majority of whom are women and girls, are excluded from basic labor laws denying them protection of their most basic human rights. This exclusion, together with gender discrimination in social and legal norms, has led to a marginalized, unprotected and vulnerable society. Domestic workers are in fact amongst the least protected within the labor force.
For the last decade, international organizations have documented a series of human rights abuses against domestic workers in the Middle East, described by some as a type of modern day slavery. In extreme cases these include long working hours with no days off, unpaid wages, confiscation of their passports, forced confinement, food deprivation, physical and sexual abuse and forced labor including debt bondage and trafficking. Despite Kuwait’s efforts to prevent these cases of human and labour rights abuses, incidents of abuse continue to surface due to the inefficient regulatory framework for domestic work, especially the ineffective regulation of employment agencies. Agencies recruit women and girls to work as domestic workers often without disclosing the details of the position, such as the extent of working hours, the work conditions, applicable rights and duties or even the contract length. Also, they charge high fees for the recruitment (which is illegal because Kuwaiti law mandates the sponsor to pay all fees) and ask workers to sign contracts in Arabic. This lack of transparency also has potentially negative effects on Kuwaiti families because such formation about the workers’ experience, religion or age is often false and may lead to potential conflicts at home. The absence of implementation of Kuwaiti laws and regulative standards for agencies has resulted in numerous cases of abuse and exploitation of domestic workers as well as Kuwaiti families being misled. The supply (domestic workers), as well as the vast majority of the demand side (Kuwaiti families) do not want this, therefore a goal-oriented and effective reform of the recruiting process is pivotal to prevent further abuse and lack of transparency in the hiring stages.
Project 189 works to protect and promote the rights of domestic workers through empowerment and through the creation of new practices that effectively will ensure, promote and protect the fundamental rights of domestic workers. At the same time, Project 189 helps concerned Kuwaiti families to be able to make a more transparent and informed decision.
Project 189 will contribute to the improvement of human and labor rights for domestic workers in Kuwait through initiating a demand for social regulation via SA8000® Standard.
Project 189 will commit to the following activities for a period of 12 months:
- The SA8000 Standard, established by SAI and one of the world’s preeminent social standards, is a tool for implementing international labor standards to protect workers along each step of the supply chain. Project 189 seeks to introduce this standard in Kuwait operative agencies through a series of workshops and leaflets that will be given to concerned Kuwaiti families for the creation of a certification demand, as well as to the agencies itself for basic capacity building.
- Thereby, agencies that obtain a future certification will have proven that their processes and procedures are aligned and in full compliance to ILO conventions to measure social compliance and to protect the basic human rights of workers.
- The nine elements that SA8000 Standard include are: child labor; forced and compulsory labor; health and safety; freedom of association and right to collective bargaining; discrimination; disciplinary practices; working hours; remuneration and management systems. Project 189 proposes to introduce SA8000 Standard through the following approach:
- Conduct at least 4 awareness raising workshops for private persons
- Conduct at least 4 implementation trainings for recruiting agencies
- Develop a consultation program
- Develop a resource booklet for domestic workers informing them on their rights and duties, as well as support information in at least two different languages.
- Develop a SA8000 Standard Action Manual for recruiting agencies (specific information for this industry).
Through its unique approach, the proposed project will implement international standards to an unregulated industry, thus directly promoting fundamental rights of domestic workers in Kuwait. With the introduction of a comprehensive and market oriented regulation of recruitment practices, the project will promote equal treatment and absence of discrimination, the right to life and security of the person, and the fundamental labor rights of thousands of domestic workers will be effectively guaranteed.
On the other hand, by improving and regulating the current standards of recruitment, the project will also be able to contribute to the implementation and enforcement of Kuwaiti labor laws already in place. The proposed project, through the scheduled workshops, will also provide Kuwaiti families the opportunity to show the international public that they are doing their best in preventing any form of abuse against domestic workers.
Overall, the proposed project has the potential to impact the whole industry, becoming an example for a cautious and regionally adapted reform of the heavily criticized situation of domestic workers in the Middle East.
Project 189 will seek the engagement of the following organizations at different levels and stages of the project:
- Kuwaiti Union for Domestic Labour Offices (KUDLO) a business association for owners of domestic labour recruitment agencies
- The Kuwaiti Association of the Basic Evaluators for human rights
- Kuwait Society for Human Rights
- Migrant Rights: Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East
- The Business & Human Rights Resource Center
- Aware Center: Advocates for Western-Arab Relations
- en.v.: raising awareness for social responsibility in the Arab world
Region:Middle East & North Africa
Rule of Law Index Factors: Fundamental Rights (Factor 4), and Regulatory Enforcement (Factor 6).
Issue Areas: Business, Government, Human Rights, and Women and Girls.