The International Labour Organization released the following video to demonstrate how individuals can get trapped into forced labour. The animation depicts several conditions of forced labor, including misleading recruitment practices, harmful working conditions, substandard living conditions, in-kind payment, and passport confiscation. Forced labour is one motive for human trafficking and even individuals who voluntarily seek work may still be victims of trafficking if, for example, they face deceptive recruitment, endure overly restrictive work or living conditions, or are unable to leave their employer due to threat or penalty.
There are an estimated 21 million people in conditions of forced labour globally, with over 600,000 in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA). Trafficking victims in the MENA region pay nearly $500 million in illegal recruitment fees each year. Last year, the ILO published a report on human trafficking in the Middle East, identifying the sponsorship system as a structural cause of forced labour. Read our full summary of the report here.
GCC states, the UAE in particular, responded to the report’s findings with disdain rather than action. Most states have approached trafficking almost exclusively as a sex, drug, or security issue, for example dedicating funding to anti-trafficking conferences and shelters centered on prostitution rather than combatting pervasive realities of forced labour.
Some recent state activities suggest attitudes may be changing, however slowly; both Qatar and the UAE launched media campaigns to raise awareness about trafficking but neither have proposed reforms to the root causes of forced labour. Similarly, Kuwait recently announced the results of national efforts to combat trafficking; since 2008, over 4,075 fake companies (companies that exist on paper only, profiting from the sponsorship system by selling visas and recruiting migrant workers for undocumented jobs or for no job at all) were referred to pubic prosecution. According to Kuwaiti officials, half of these companies will only face a misdemeanor; meanwhile, of 12,000 migrants employed by these companies, less than half were able to correct their status and remain in Kuwait, while 3,300 were deported. The absence of proportionate penalties on visa traffickers and the overarching failure to acknowledge visa trafficking as inherent to the sponsorship system demonstrates that serious progress remains to be made in combatting forced labour.