Making Workers Pay: Recruitment of the Migrant Labor Force in the Gulf Construction Industry
Author : David Segall, Sarah Labowitz | 2017
Published By: Stern Center for Business and Human Rights
Oil was discovered in the Arabian Gulf (also called the Persian Gulf) region in the early
20th century, followed by a long-term rise in the prices of oil and natural gas beginning in the late 1990s. Since then, the countries of what is now known as the Gulf Cooperation
Council (GCC) – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, and
Oman – have experienced development at a furious pace.
The most visible sign of the region’s growth is its booming construction landscape.
Governments are spending their enormous wealth commissioning new campuses for
international artistic and educational institutions and hosting mega-events like the 2020
World Expo in Dubai and the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. The combination of vast
wealth and large-scale development has resulted in significant structural changes within
these societies, including mass migration of low-wage workers, mostly from South and
Southeast Asia, into the local construction and service sectors.
Thus far, Gulf societies have not provided adequate protections for the influx of outsiders.
The situation of workers on high-profile construction projects in the region has been the
subject of considerable public attention in recent years. Reports from human rights
organizations, news media, and international organizations have documented that GCC
migrant workers frequently are underpaid, are allotted substandard housing, and lack legal
protections – including the freedom to organize in most states.
GCC countries also have not ratified international legal instruments meant to protect
migrant workers from abuses like these, nor have a number of major migrant-sending
In all GCC countries, variants of the legal sponsorship or kafala system give
local employers significant power over their workers, making it difficult for migrants to
change jobs, lodge complaints, or even to return home without permission from their
employers. Meanwhile, the protective laws that are on the books in the GCC are
URL : 20170608120447.pdf