The Kafala System and State-Sanctioned Slavery

Today, July 30th is known as World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. In 2013, the General Assembly of the UN designated today as a day “to bring awareness about Human Trafficking and also to promote protection of their rights.” As of today, there are an estimated 20 to 30 million people worldwide who are currently living as human trafficking victims, 71% of these victims are woman and girls. While sexual exploitation is the more well-known form of human trafficking, there are many women who are used as slaves for domestic servitude. Domestic servitude can take the look of a maid, servant, house-keeper, child-care giver, or nurse. Many times, these roles overlap and here in the United States, it is the second highest form of forced labor in the country.

Kafala System in the Middle East

In some countries, there are systems in place that protect the rights of the employer as opposed to the rights of the “employee”. In the Gulf Region of the Middle East, there is such a system in place. The kafala system is essentially a sponsorship program whereby a migrant worker is sponsored by a resident of the country in order to work and live there. Many critics of the system argue that kafala is essentially slavery. The workers under the system are often restricted from moving within the country and are often not permitted to change jobs. Their passports are taken from them and there is no regulation in regard to workers’ rights. Most of these migrant workers are from the Philippines, as well as other Asian and African nations. In 2016 and 2017, the Kuwaiti government did attempt to make some strides in protecting workers in the kafala system by giving them one day off a week, 30 days of annual paid leave, and creating a minimum wage. This is a small start and hopefully is the beginning of giving real protections to these workers.

Kafala in the News   

I was first made aware of the kafala system after reading about the comments made by Youtuber Sondos al-Qattan. She is a makeup blogger from Kuwait with 2.3 million followers on instagram and had posted a video with comments about the hiring of Filipino workers. In the video,,  she is  seen saying that workers do not need one day off a week, and if the worker is given their passport and leaves, then she will be out of her financial investment. In May, the Philippines and Kuwait reached an agreement where this practice will be prohibited.  The backlash to her video was severe and swift with many viewers asking for her to sponsors to drop her. Sondos has since posted another video where she has stated her original thoughts again and agrees that taking the passport of an employee protects her rights as an employer. After the backlash, many of her paid sponsors have canceled their contracts with her.

    We Must Fight Against Human Trafficking Every Day

I am happy for the response and also the response of the sponsors, but I am pained to know that there is a system in place that is almost state-sanctioned slavery. There are an estimated 10 million Filipino workers living abroad which makes them one of the largest labor exporters in the world. Whenever someone leaves their home in search of work it is in the hopes of having a better life. We must make sure that no one is exploited for hoping to create a better existence for themselves and their families. As World Day Against Trafficking in Persons comes to a close we must remember to fight for the rights of human trafficking victims every day.


  1. Thank you for the information regarding the Kafala System. Greed is one of the driving force for some of the evil and injustice we hear about. It is very good that we hold people accountable, when we are made aware of evil practices.

    Sent from my iPhone



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