12 September, 2013
By Anabelle Suitor
WASHINGTON, D.C. — the Gulf Institute has created a map of Saudi human trafficking cases and violations. The map is available at https://crowdmap.com/map/saudihumantrafficking/ depicting recent cases of human trafficking abuses committed by the Saudi ruling family.
The Al-Saud Monarchy sits at the top of Saudi society, where migrant workers and domestic labors reside at the bottom. With the absence of press freedom or independent media in Saudi Arabia many cases of abuse of migrant workers by members of the Saudi Monarchy go unreported. Nonpayment, rape, physical abuse and even murder are remarkably common. The most recent member of the Saudi ruling family, Meshael Alayban was detained in Irvine, California in July 2013 and charged with counts of human trafficking. However, all charges against her were later dropped in September.
Her Kenyan maid, after fleeing captivity, was taken to the police as a victim of human trafficking. The woman had signed a contract with the Saudi princess that she would receive $1,600 a month to work 8 hours a day for 5 days a week. However, the Saudi princess worked her maid 16 hours a day without a day of rest. The maid only received $220 a month for her extensive labor.
Alayban was released from jail on a $5 million bail, a negligible amount to the extremely wealthy Saudi ruling family. After missing her hearing on July 30th, she appeared in court on Friday September 20th where her charges were then dropped. This is not the first time a Saudi royal has been charged with human trafficking violations in the United States. This also is certainly not the first time the charges had been so easily dropped against a member of the Saudi ruling family in the United States. This case comes amongst a long record of human trafficking abuses committed by members of the Saudi ruling family and a long record of leniency for those abuses by the United States and Europe.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab countries use the kafala system to recruit and employ foreign labor. By allowing Saudi citizens to sponsor the visa of a worker residing abroad, the Saudi government gives the employer near absolute control over the personal affairs of the worker. The worker becomes entirely dependent on the employer. The worker cannot receive their residence card, undergo medical examination or leave the country without the permission of their sponsor. Saudi Arabia banned slavery 1963, but the kafala system operates under the same style of human possession. When this form of possession is coupled with non-payment, workers are thrown into a system of involuntary servitude that mirrors slavery. The abuse of domestic workers has been to a degree, normalized and accepted within the KSA.
The Palermo Protocol, the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, which both the United States and Saudi Arabia are signatories of describe illegal human trafficking as, “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”
There is a long history of Saudi royals traveling outside Saudi Arabia to engage in acts which would be viewed negatively in their own country. The case of Saud Abdulaziz bin Nasser al Saud murdering his sexual partner and servant in 2010 recently brought this to international attention and other Saudi royal trafficking cases abroad are pinpointed on the map. The human trafficking violations conducted by the Saudi ruling family are not just closed to Saudi Arabia. Because of the global nature of human trafficking, these violations directly affect the state of the international community.
Alayban did, by the definition described in the Palermo Protocol, illegally traffic her worker. Saudi Arabia and the United States are bound by international law to adequately prosecute her. Saudi Arabia has signed on to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women which does provide certain rights for domestic workers. However, in 2008 Human Rights Watch reported that the Saudi government is not obligated to comply with any legislation that contradicts “the norms of Islamic Law,” i.e., the Saudi government’s rigid interpretation of Islamic Law. These types of reservations clearly violate international laws while delegitimizing and ignoring the intended mission of such legislations. The rights of foreign domestic workers are currently not protected by Saud domestic labor laws.
The kafala system, by granting a feeling of ownership to employers, often allows employers to dehumanize their workers without remorse. It is very common amongst Saudi sponsors to utilize levels of force on their domestic workers or laborers.
Domestic workers who work for the members of the Al-Saud family are often required to work much more hours than agreed to and are paid significantly less than promised. Workers sign a contract with their ‘travel agencies’ that guarantee a set wage at set hours. Upon arriving in Saudi Arabia, workers often discover the conditions of their contract to be void. Their sponsor decides new hours and new wages without the consultation of the agency or their worker. This practice is extremely common and not just limited to Alayban’s case. The process domestic workers must undertake to retrieve unpaid wages is lengthy, tedious and rarely successful.
The Saudi government, in its persistent disregard for the international laws of which it had signed on to, has made it clear that it is not committed to the prosecution of human trafficking violations. Even though Meshael Alayban is a Saudi national, she was facing trial in the United States. Many Saudi royals, such as Buniah al Saud, who was charged with beating her maid in 2006 in Florida, had been granted immunity from US laws. There is a record of the US government failing to prosecute Saudi nationals. The United States is bound to both international law and its own domestic law. The 13th amendment of the US Constitution outlaws involuntary servitude.
Alayban and her maid had a voluntary contract. This contract was violated when the maid was forced to serve Alayban under non-consensual and extra-contractual rules. The nature of Alayban’s maid’s labor was involuntary and the United States was bound by its constitution to prosecute Alayban. By failing to prosecute Alayban, the United States has failed to protect an international community of marginalized domestic workers, the US constitution and global human rights.
You can visit the Gulf Institute’s map of human trafficking by members of the Saudi ruling family here: https://crowdmap.com/map/saudihumantrafficking/.
Anabelle Suitor is a women right’s contributor to the Gulf Institute and its No Women. No Play. campaign.