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16 Eur. J.L. Reform 377 (2014)
The System of Kafala and the Rights of Migrant Workers in GCC Countries - With Specific Reference to Saudi Arabia

handle is hein.journals/ejlr16 and id is 377 raw text is: The System of Kafala and the Rights of Migrant
Workers in GCC Countries - With Specific
Reference to Saudi Arabia
Majed M. Alzahrani*
Abstract
Under the Kafala system, which applies in all Arab countries, migrant workers
must attain a work entry visa and residential permit, which is possible only if they
are working for a domestic institution or corporation or a citizen of the respective
country. Each and every employer is required, based on the Kafala system, to adopt
all legal and economic responsibilities for all of the employer's workers during their
contractual period. By giving wide-ranging powers and responsibilities unilaterally
to employers, the Kafala system subjects workers to abysmal and exploitative
working conditions, violence, and human rights abuses. Some of these problems
have recently made headlines in the United States and in Europe in connection
with the campus being built by New York University in Abu Dhabi. While NYU
imposed a code of labor standards on its direct contractual partners, it claimed to
have no means of controlling subcontractors. Nor did NYU try very hard, it seems,
to verify compliance even by its direct contractual partners.
Migrant workers make up at least 30 percent of the population of Saudi Arabia
and 49 percent of Saudi Arabia's entire workforce. Employers control Saudi Ara-
bia's Kafala system, in which migrant workers are the weakest link. Studies and
international organizations report that foreigners employed in Saudi Arabia have
returned home with many complaints. In 2006, Saudi Arabia re-examined all laws
including its labor law. This re-examination resulted in abolishing some terms used
in labor law, such as the kafala system, but the system remains as is. The new labor
law includes many positive changes, but not enough according to the assessment of
local and international scholars and observers. In this paper, I will reveal laws,
practices and patterns that essentially cause the vulnerability of migrant workers,
and I will suggest effective alternative strategies. This paper should contribute to
our growing understanding of issues of concern for migrant workers in Saudi Ara-
bia and other Arab countries and help to develop specific and necessary legal and
institutional responses.
Keywords: migrant workers rights, GCC, Saudi, Kafala system, labor.
*   LL.M, Indiana University, Robert H. McKinney School of Law. The author would like to thank
Professor Frank Emmert for advice and guidance in the production of this article.

European Journal of Law Reform 2014 (16) 2

377

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