Forced labour in Saudi Arabia

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Saudi Arabia is a destination country for men and women subject to forced labour and, to a lesser extent, forced prostitution. Men and women from Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and many other countries voluntarily travel to Saudi Arabia as domestic workers or low-skilled labourers, and many subsequently face conditions indicative of involuntary servitude, including nonpayment of wages, long working hours without rest, deprivation of food, threats, physical and sexual abuse, and restrictions on movement such as the withholding of passports or confinement to the workplace.


Although many migrant workers sign contracts delineating their rights, there are reports of working conditions that are substantially different from those described in the contract. Some migrant workers also never see a contract at all, leaving them especially vulnerable to forced labour, including debt bondage.


Within the current sponsorship system, a company, private person or administration can be the “sponsor”. The company, as a sponsor, has a great responsibility towards the Saudi authorities, especially within the framework of the Saudization policy, Saudi Arabia's job localization policy.


Recruitment agencies also play a major role in the placement of workers in Saudi Arabia. Due to the clause in the system requiring that foreign workers receive permission from their employer to obtain an exit visa before leaving the country, there have been reports from migrant workers being forced to work for months or years beyond their contract term due to their employer not granting an exit permit.


Recruitment agencies in Saudi Arabia are occasionally resorted to for placing expatriates in temporary work or for expatriate wives wishing to take up local employment. There are numerous regulations controlling the employment of spouses, and separate work visas are required with a local employment agent handling the details. Local agents are also called upon when expatriates change jobs. This, however, remains fairly uncommon as expatriates are normally sent to Saudi Arabia under contract and job changes are restricted by their employers themselves.