Exposing the Evils of the Kafala System in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has initiated a number of labor reforms to curb abuses. The labor ministry has introduced fines and penalties for workers that violate the laws. However, these are mostly applicable to local workers, and exclude migrant laborers.

The migrant workers in the Arab country are governed by the kafala system. A number of human right agencies have criticized the kafala system as being abusive and that creates opportunity for the employers to exploit their workers. In this article, we will take a close look at the abusive labor program in the country that create inhumane working conditions for the laborers.

A Look at the Kafala System Abuse in Saudi Arabia

The kafala system is used to monitor unskilled laborers in Saudi Arabia. Most of the unskilled labors in the country belong to South and Southeast Asian regions. The kafala system mandates that workers are supervised by a sponsor that is usually their employer. The employer is responsible for their visa and other legal matters.

The labor system is a type of visa sponsorship program that ties the fate of the worker’s right to stay in the country to the employers. The system is restrictive to the labors and gives excessive power to the employers.

Over the past 10 years, the Human Rights Watch has documented a number of employer abuses in the country. The documents have revealed a number of abuse cases in the oil rich kingdom including exploitative terms and forcing the workers to work under appalling conditions.

The Human Rights Watch Report had stated that the kafala system in Saudi Arabia allows the employer to hire and fire the employee at will. The employer is given the power to prevent the employee from returning to their own country. This is contrary to the Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that has been signed by all member UN nations including Saudi Arabia.

The high recruitment fees that are paid by the employees including the power granted by the kafala system have emboldened the employers to create slavery-like conditions. The existing labor laws in the country exclude the migrant workers that are working under the kafala system.


The conditions of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia are less likely to improve until the kafala system is put to an end. The workers should be given a right to freedom of movement and residence as is mandated by the UN Human rights declaration. There is a need for the international community to take actions against the abusive labor laws in the country whereby employers are given the green light to exploit their employees. The end to the kafala system and introduction of reforms are essential to improve the plights of expats that are working in the Gulf counties.

Posted On October 27, 2017