Paper: “Modern Slavery” and Human Trafficking on a Saudi Electronic Marketplace

The British newspaper The Times reported in a special investigation that the most popular electronic application for buying and selling in Saudi Arabia is witnessing many cases of human trafficking.

The newspaper pointed out that the “Al-Haraj” application and website, considered the largest online marketplace in the Kingdom, witnessed dozens of advertisements published by Saudi citizens every day selling and hiring domestic labor services. announce which includes domestic helpers, babysitters. , managers, gardeners and others.

It contacted the Kingdom’s Human Rights Commission for comment, but did not receive it at the time of publication.

The newspaper noted that it has seen 200 of these ads, and that auctions are taking place on the site to obtain the highest possible price.

The application, which has received 2.5 million visits in the past year, is still available on the Apple Store and Google Play, despite being criticized by United Nations special rapporteurs in 2020 under the pretext of “modern slavery facilitate.”

In Saudi Arabia, which has the third largest number of migrant workers in the world, foreign workers can live and work through the kafala system, whereby a Saudi citizen known as the “sponsor” is responsible for the worker in many professional and personal aspects .

And Riyadh announced in March last year, and within the framework of the “2030” vision led by Saudi Crown Prince Prince Mohammed bin Salman, that it had begun to take practical steps to end the sponsorship system, which would gives workers many rights such as the possibility to change jobs and open a bank account. To leave the country without the sponsor’s permission.

However, these changes have so far excluded some occupations, especially those related to domestic workers, and therefore the sponsor still has great powers that it can use to abuse those workers, estimated to number around 4 million workers.

“work without rest”

The publishers of advertisements on the “Al-Haraj” application, who spoke to the confidential reporter of the “Times” newspaper, admitted that they withheld the passports of domestic workers, and two of them admitted that they “disciplined” with physical discipline. violence if they “failed their duties”.

Dozens of “sponsors” said they expected maids to work day and night, without breaks, for less than 23 Saudi riyals a day, about $6.

Noura, a housewife living in Riyadh, said in her interview with the newspaper’s undercover reporter, who claimed to be looking for a maid, that her 23-year-old Ugandan maid would work tirelessly day and night if he wanted her services buy for about 16,000 Saudi Riyal (about 4254 US dollars).

“If (the maid) does something wrong, you can lock her in her room and punish her,” said Noura, flirting with her fancy sunglasses, eager to make a quick deal. It is, but you have to tell me now, because by tomorrow someone else will have it.”

When asked about the reason she sold her maid, Noura said: “She is a good worker who knows how to clean and cook, but she cannot take care of my child, not to mention that my grandmother is ill, so I need money as soon as possible to cover her treatment costs.”

Others who posted ads on the site said they were auctioning off their maids because they “didn’t know how to handle children,” “couldn’t speak Arabic or English,” “their personal hygiene wasn’t good,” or because they are “stubborn and difficult.” headache”.

‘Philippines in the lead’

Prices vary according to the nationality of the workers. Filipina maids are more in demand and their prices are the highest.

The “Times” investigation indicated that hundreds of advertisements disappeared a few days after they were published due to the high demand for experienced workers. In this context, Noura later told the reporter that she “sold her servant” to a more serious buyer. who lives in the city of Abha, in the south of the country.

For its part, the Kenyan Labor Law Awareness Initiative, which works to help domestic workers in the Middle East, stated that it receives reports every day of Saudi sponsors selling or hiring the services of domestic workers “without official permission”, in addition to receiving of hundreds of calls per month from domestic workers confirming that they have been subjected to abuse.

30-year-old Kenyan domestic worker Valerie Chebna benefited from the initiative’s help to leave Saudi Arabia and return to Nairobi this year.

Valerie said the family she worked for in Riyadh for two years beat her every day, refused to allow her to return to her country and withheld food from her “as a form of discipline”.

And she continued, “I returned to my country with psychological disorders, without receiving my financial fees, and without even being able to get my passport, study and experience certificates… All this was kept by the couple for whom I worked because they refused to leave them.”

In a related context, Equidem, an international human rights organization that has a team specialized in exposing the violations against domestic workers in the Middle East, explained that “the problem of trafficking in maids in Saudi Arabia has decades of existence,” but recently it has been “closer to a humanitarian crisis.” and become ethical because of technology.

“Based on the investigation conducted by The Times newspaper and the reports we receive, we are very concerned that there are hundreds and perhaps thousands of cases of human trafficking taking place in Saudi Arabia via the Internet,” said the organization’s executive director, Mustafa Already said. – Qadri.

Al-Qadri accused the tech giants of “facilitating the exploitation of these workers”.

In its response to the accusations, an Apple spokesperson explained that they “ban any apps found to promote illegal activities, including human trafficking and child exploitation.”

He continued: “We take any reports or allegations in this regard very seriously.”

On the other hand, Google refused to comment on the banning of the “Al-Haraj” app on its store.

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