The government demonstrated increased efforts to prevent trafficking, including modest preparatory steps to reform its sponsorship system. It demonstrated mixed progress on implementation of its 2017-2020 national action plan to combat trafficking that focused on monitoring, prevention, building government capacity, inter-ministerial coordination, effective law enforcement, and provision of protective services for victims. However, during the reporting period, the HRC activated its long-dormant memoranda of understanding with two international organizations to increase training and capacity building of government officials on trafficking issues to meet various tenets of its national action plan. Specifically, it commenced partnership with one of these organizations to overhaul trafficking data collection to provide more real-time, coordinated metrics. Additionally, the HRC held a first-ever roundtable with labor-sending countries to assess the scope of trafficking in Saudi Arabia and where governmental policies fall short in curbing the crime. In October 2019, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs directed all mosques to deliver an anti-trafficking sermon for Friday prayers nationwide. During the same month, a senior Saudi delegation attended Bahrain’s regional trafficking conference and committed to critical reforms to include reforms of the kafala system, which has resulted in widespread exploitative forced labor and other crimes.
HRC officials distributed more than 120 banners and 20,000 leaflets on trafficking crimes to its 13 branch offices, in addition to all PPO branches, police stations, shelters, and prisons. MOLSD launched the “Conscientious Work Campaign” nationwide, which educated workers and recruitment agencies on labor rights, proper reporting channels, and upholding the rights of domestic workers; the campaign hosted 52 workshops for more than 1,000 employees and produced videos and social media posts in eight different languages. The HRC and King Saud University distributed educational materials on campuses, and the state-run media broadcasted infographics via approximately 20,000 displays at commercial complexes and malls across the Kingdom during the year. Furthermore, the King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh displayed information on trafficking indicators and associated penalties, and officials opened kiosks in a prominent mall and distributed more than 2,700 copies of informational materials there. MOLSD authorities held workshops for approximately 2,900 recruitment agencies in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Kenya, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Uganda, and Vietnam to inform domestic workers of their rights prior to recruitment during the reporting period. Officials operated a 24-hour call center that received calls in nine major labor-sending country languages: Amharic, Arabic, Bengali, English, Hindi, Indonesian, Malay, Tagalog, and Urdu. The government did not report how many victims it identified as a result of the calls or if it initiated any investigations of trafficking crimes resulting from them during the reporting period. The call center received approximately 280 calls per day on average. Some workers and labor-sending country officials reported impracticalities and technical difficulties getting through to operators using this phone line, citing poorly trained and under-resourced staff.
The government also continued to operate and utilize its online domestic labor portal known as Musaned, meaning “support” in Arabic. This system consisted of a website and smartphone application that allowed potential employees in various sectors and individual employers to verify the license of a recruitment agency, review materials on employee and employer rights and responsibilities (in Arabic and English only), complete and electronically sign contracts, and request a visa. This system intended to eliminate unregulated brokers, increase transparency and accountability of recruitment agencies and work contracts, and reduce the risk of forced labor. It also included a complaints resolution mechanism and associated resources. Musaned also served as a tool for authenticating contracts. MOLSD reported 1,079,668 authenticated contracts existed on record at the conclusion of the reporting period. The system was required for all large establishments with 3,000 or more employees. Diplomats from multiple labor-sending countries reported Musaned enhanced the ability of embassies to monitor newly arrived nationals. However, in some cases embassies found some information entered in the platform, such as address of residence and place of work, was either missing or incorrect following a transfer, impeding efforts to track reported victims of abuse and trafficking. Finally, MOLSD launched a pilot program called Weddi (“friendly” in Arabic), which was an alternative dispute resolution mechanism whereby a worker could e-submit a complaint and supporting documentation. If either the employee or employer rejected the proposed resolution, officials would automatically transfer the case to the MOJ.
Pursuant to a ministerial circular promulgated in September 2019, authorities launched a mechanism to electronically verify work contracts during the reporting period to prevent contract switching and fraudulent documentation. The initiative aimed to obligate all private sector companies to sign contracts with their employees enabling MOLSD to electronically account for, authenticate, and monitor all employment contracts in the private sector. It also granted employees access to their contract and ensured MOLSD could impose sanctions on establishments that contravened the terms contained therein. Accordingly, inspectors were required to ascertain, through field inspections, that withholding employees’ passports, residence permit, or personal/family insurance cards was not indicative of trafficking, among other investigative steps to safeguard employees against the crime. As in the previous reporting period, however, the government did not report investigating or referring for criminal prosecution any passport retention crimes. MOLSD allocated 120 million SAR ($32 million) during the reporting period to train labor inspectors, conduct awareness campaigns on labor rights, and carry out studies to examine exit and re-entry visas, final exit visas, and sponsorship transfers. The entity also led workshops with the private sector and local chambers of commerce on upcoming visa reforms that intend to reduce employers’ control over employees’ rights to exit the Kingdom. In December 2019, the government revised regulations on final exit processes for commercial or domestic workers whose sponsors failed to pay required fees, renew a worker’s status, or were absent. In these specified circumstances, MOLSD granted a limited work permit (for exiting) and issued a letter to the MOI’s passport office authorizing departure, barring any pending criminal accusations against the laborer. The government reported it approved more than 7,250 workers to exit Saudi Arabia through this process, without employer approval, during the year. However, at the close of the reporting period the government still required the majority of laborers to seek employer permission to depart the country or change sponsors, which increased the risk of forced labor.
During the reporting period, the government expanded usage of its Wage Protection System, which required employers to pay foreign workers by electronic transfer via a Saudi bank, thereby permitting the government to track disbursements and prevent non- or delayed payments of wages—a key forced labor indicator prominent across the Kingdom. This requirement applied to all employees who worked for companies with 11 or more employees and covered the vast majority of expatriate workers in Saudi Arabia. In addition, it mandated individual employers of domestic labor to issue prepaid payroll or salary cards as soon as the domestic worker arrived in the Kingdom to ensure a legal working relationship between employer and employee and safeguard employees’ prescribed wages. The system, currently voluntary, reviewed payrolls and imposed penalties for any firm that failed to maintain at least 80 percent compliance, resulting in suspension of government services and recruitment privileges. The government reported a 2019 compliance rate of 75.35 percent. Additionally, it documented 10,591 complaints filed against employers for non-payment of wages, and MOLSD inspected 484 establishments that failed to achieve at least 70 percent compliance. The government did not report efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex. The government sought to eliminate vulnerabilities in labor recruitment through its deployment of labor inspectors and HRC representatives—400 of whom specialized in trafficking crimes—who conducted an unknown number of field visits to monitor the application of employment and recruitment laws. Officials reported 32 offices and nine recruitment companies were in violation of regulations; however, none of these violations were reported as trafficking or forwarded for criminal investigation. Penalties included the revocation of 18 licenses and the withdrawal or suspension of bank guarantees from 21 recruitment agencies, and the government fined six firms 5,000 SAR ($1,330) each. During the reporting period, diplomatic representatives from several countries reported an improvement in Saudi government oversight over labor recruitment and the proper implementation of labor contracts. However, the government did not report referral of any such cases for criminal investigation and prosecution for potential trafficking crimes. The government has in place several negotiated bilateral labor agreements with primary labor-sending countries (e.g., Indonesia and Ethiopia), which set minimum wage standards and regulated protections and benefits for laborers such as work hours, mandatory time off, and overarching work conditions. Many of these bilateral agreements stipulated use of Musaned and associated electronic contracts, and the government reported registration of 150,040 of such contracts during the reporting period. For the first time, the government provided anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel on domestic worker rights and how to treat domestic employees while serving at Saudi embassies abroad, and it disseminated training materials used in the course to all of its overseas missions.