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Tech: A Pivotal Tool in the Commodification of Women


It is widely known that Gulf is a hotbed for human trafficking, relentless exploitation and forced labour. The existence of the Kafala sponsorship system means that an employee’s right to stay, work and live is dependent on their employer. Though countries such as Qatar are currently crumbling under international pressures and are on their way to abolishing it - similar promises were made before (in 2011 by Kuwait) with no follow through. Even after Kuwait made the positive change that led to its removal from the “List of Countries Violating Workers’ Rights”, Kafala is still in place. Like Hong Kong, even if laws improve, attitudes towards FDWs and lack of enforcement still leave some 2.5 million women across the GCC countries vulnerable to maltreatment.


What is most concerning in the age of technology is that Middle Eastern society is bearing witness to a complete removal of the middle man - as previously understood - in the flagrant human trafficking of domestic workers. There is direct employer to employer contact through apps, forums and social media platforms. The same features of sharing/commenting that are used by foreign domestic workers and advocates to spread awareness of human rights violations on social media platforms are now being repurposed by employers to facilitate modern slavery.


Most recently, a couple working undercover for BBC Arabia posed as new residents looking to employ an FDW. They were advised by locals to use commodity apps such as OLX, 4Sale and Haraj, all of which were used to buy and sell domestic workers. Deciding factors boil down to concerns about demeanour and ethnicity. The rise of slave markets on Instagram are encouraged by the platform’s predictive algorithm that will blindly promote certain hashtags depending on previous searches. Enormous corporations such as Google, Apple and Facebook need to be held accountable to “ensure certain technologies do not exacerbate existing socioeconomic inequalities”.

On the flipside, a 2018 report on transformative technology concluded that though new tech “cannot fix structural inequalities, there are amplified opportunities for empowerment and justice.” That same year, an app was launched in Brazil to spread awareness amongst domestic workers of the nation’s labour laws. The creator encourages employers to download it too; there is no place for willful ignorance any longer.


Holding the government and law enforcement agencies accountable only goes so far without employee-targeted education. What the population is in dire need of is wide sweeping readjustment of attitudes towards these women.


  1. Priyanka Motaparthy, ‘Understanding Kafala: An archaic law at cross purposes with modern development’ (Migrant Rights, March 11 2015) <https://www.migrant-rights.org/2015/03/understanding-kafala-an-archaic-law-at-cross-purposes-with-modern-development/> accessed 18 November 2019

  2. George Sadek, ‘ILO: Removing Kuwait from List of Countries Violating Workers’ Rights’ (ILO, 16 June 2016) <https://www.loc.gov/law/foreign-news/article/international-labor-organizationkuwait-removal-from-list-of-countries-violating-workers-rights/>accessed 18 November 2019

  3. Jillian Keenan and Njeri Rugene, '’They see us as slaves': Kenyan women head for the Gulf despite abuse fears’ (The Guardian, 29 October 2019) <https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/oct/29/kenyan-women-gulf-despite-abuse-fears-domestic-workers>accessed 20 November 2019

  4. Owen Pinnell & Jess Kelly, ‘Slave markets found on Instagram and other apps’ (The Guardian, 31 October 2019) <https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-50228549>accessed 20 November 2019

  5. Mariam Nabbout, ‘Kafala system aside, domestic workers are being 'sold' in GCC via apps’ (Stepfeed, 5 November 2019) <https://stepfeed.com/kafala-system-aside-domestic-workers-are-being-sold-in-gcc-via-apps-6501>Accessed 18 November 2019

  6. Camino Kavanagh, ‘New Tech, New Threats, and New Governance Challenges: An Opportunity to Craft’ (2019) Carnegie Endowment for International Peace <https://carnegieendowment.org/2019/08/28/new-tech-new-threats-and-new-governance-challenges-opportunity-to-craft-smarter-responses-pub-79736>accessed 18 November 2019

  7. Angela Kintominas, ‘Transformative Technology for Migrant Workers: Opportunities, Challenges, and Risks’ (2018) Open Society Foundations <https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/publications/transformative-technology-migrant-workers-opportunities-challenges-and-risks#publications_downloa>accessed 19 November 2019

  8. Ciara Long, ‘Brazil’s domestic workers get help with app’ (Public Radio International, July 12 2018) <https://www.pri.org/stories/2018-06-14/brazil-s-domestic-workers-get-help-app>accessed 18 November 2019

  9. Brian YS Wong ‘It is every Hongkonger’s responsibility to stop the mistreatment of our domestic workers’ (South China Morning Post, 10 March 2019) <https://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/hong-kong/article/2189146/its-every-hongkongers-responsibility-stop>accessed 18 November 2019

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