The government maintained efforts to prevent human trafficking, although it did not take any new steps to reform the visa sponsorship system, which continued to render migrant workers highly vulnerable to exploitation, including trafficking. The National Committee, established in 2018, did not convene during the reporting period; however, the working group within the committee tasked with implementing the government’s anti-trafficking strategy and the NRM convened three times during the reporting period. The National Committee included representatives from the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Information, Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs, Ministry of Social Affairs, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, MOI’s Anti-Trafficking Department and Residency Affairs Division, PAM, and the PPO. The government reported that agencies tasked with combating trafficking, including those on the National Committee, continued to operate during the reporting period, although their operations were limited by pandemic restrictions, as most government entities remained staffed at only 30 to 60 percent capacity. The government, in collaboration with an international organization, financially supported and conducted public awareness campaigns at shopping malls and the international airport to raise awareness of trafficking and warn against using illegal labor recruitment companies. Various officials also took part in anti- trafficking awareness messaging on local television, radio, and social media platforms. The government continued to disseminate pamphlets to educate migrant workers on their rights, which were published in seven languages and disseminated in airports, embassies, and labor- recruitment agencies. In July 2021, the government, in coordination with an international organization, reported it organized a campaign to raise awareness on trafficking during World Day Against Trafficking in Persons through an SMS campaign and questionnaire contest.
In the last reporting period, PAM announced a collaborative program with the GSSCPD and two international organizations, entitled “Tamkeen,” which included the creation of an International Recruitment Integrity System (IRIS), a voluntary accreditation mechanism that connects employers, employees, and recruiters to promote ethical recruitment. The government reported it continued to implement the Tamkeen initiative with the aim to digitize PAM’s labor files in order to make the files trackable to prevent trafficking-related corruption and bribes by government officials and increase the transparency of the government’s regulation of foreign worker recruitment. An international organization reported it provided training to the five private sector recruitment agencies licensed by PAM on ethical recruitment and IRIS. In December 2021, PAM announced a new initiative to regulate the licenses and files of recruitment companies under the auspices of a specialized team within PAM. PAM planned to screen commercial licenses to regulate the number of workers companies were allowed to hire—including for government contracts—to prevent companies from fraudulently hiring large numbers of workers for fake positions or positions different than contractually agreed upon. If violations occurred, PAM planned to suspend the company and refer it to court for legal action; however, PAM did not report what action it had taken to implement the new initiative by the end of the reporting period.
Authorities continued to employ the services of the government’s Mobile Labor Disputes Office to help workers in remote areas of the country file complaints against employers for labor law violations. The mobile unit was run by an emergency team of investigators, inspectors, interpreters, lawyers, and volunteers. Officials also advertised to migrant laborers online services that allowed workers and employers to dock and track workplace issues electronically, receive alerts if an employer filed an “absconding” charge, notify the respective source country embassy, and challenge legal settlements incurred. PAM maintained a hotline and social media accounts to receive general workplace grievances and potential trafficking cases, while DWED had an email address for the same purpose. Both hotlines remained operational during the year, and PAM reported it received 53 complaints through its hotline from January 2021 to November 2021, although it did not report if it referred any calls for criminal investigation or prosecution as a potential trafficking crime. In comparison, one NGO also ran its own hotline focused on labor exploitation, which received 4,808 calls and 391 inquiries through its online platform. In 2021, the NGO reported it received a call from a female worker who stated that a relative of her employer raped her and allegedly sold her to different employers; the NGO coordinated with MOI’s anti-trafficking department to refer the worker to her embassy for care.
In the previous reporting period, the Minister of the Interior announced the formation of an interagency task force to investigate employers and recruiting companies that use deceptive techniques to lure migrant workers to Kuwait through unenforceable contracts, fraudulent visas, and nonexistent positions, leaving these workers highly vulnerable to trafficking; however, the government did not report on the actions of the task force during the current reporting period. Officials commonly used arbitration, which resulted in monetary compensation and repayment of back-wages to victims, administrative fines, and closure of recruitment firms to resolve such cases. If a settlement could not be agreed upon, officials referred the case to the labor courts. Although the withholding of workers’ passports was prohibited under Kuwaiti labor law and the domestic worker law, the practice remained commonplace among visa sponsors and employers of foreign workers. During the year, DWED received 1,170 complaints of passport confiscation, resolved 407 complaints by returning the passports, blacklisted 29 employers, and referred the remaining 734 to the labor courts; as of November 2021, 189 cases of passport confiscation remained under review by the courts, and the government did not report on the verdicts of these cases at the close of the reporting period. PAM did not report how many complaints of passport confiscation it received, resolved through arbitration, and referred to the labor courts or if any cases were referred to MOI for further investigation as a potential trafficking crime. The domestic worker law did not specify penalties for passport confiscation; however, DWED continued to treat the practice as a contractual violation and a violation under the domestic workers law, which imposed penalties that blacklisted an employer for six months and referred the complaint to the courts. However, the domestic worker law allowed employers to take a worker’s passport with the approval of the domestic worker, which limited the effectiveness of the prohibition. Experts noted that because the anti-trafficking law did not include any article prohibiting passport confiscation with criminal penalties, instances of this practice remained pervasive in Kuwait and rendered many workers vulnerable to exploitation, specifically trafficking.
The domestic worker law (Law 68/15) guaranteed domestic workers one day off per week, a maximum 12-hour workday with rest, minimum wages paid per month, paid annual leave, end-of-service benefits, and access to file formal grievances at the MOI, among other protections. The 2016 bylaws regulated implementation of this law. Amendments to the ministerial resolution of the 2010 labor law, passed in 2016, increased penalties for non-payment of wages, made mandatory documentation of all paid wages, and required prison time and fines for employers and government officials who failed to adhere to provisions of this law. Authorities continued to apply the amended provisions of the domestic worker law by building a monetary reserve to adjudicate cases of labor law violations to pay unpaid wages and cover the costs of repatriation. In November 2021, DWED reported it collected a total of 42,216 KD ($139,790) from employers to pay unpaid or delayed wages back to workers since January 2021. For issuance or renewal of a license for a domestic worker recruitment firm, it enforced the rule that single offices must submit financial deposits of 40,000 KD ($132,450) with a two-year validity and larger companies to present a letter of guarantee worth 100,000 KD ($331,130). The DWED continued to investigate domestic worker recruitment agencies to ensure compliance with the 2015 domestic worker law. In addition, it initiated investigations based on grievances filed by domestic workers, employers, recruitment offices and companies, and embassies of labor-source countries. The government arbitrated such grievances either through extrajudicial administrative proceedings or through the labor courts. The DWED also reported it could refer suspected trafficking cases to the MOI for further investigation but did not report doing so during the reporting period. From January to November 2021, DWED officials received 2,533 work-related complaints, resolved 1,154 in extrajudicial administrative proceedings, and referred 1,307 to the labor courts, while 72 remained pending. As of November 2021, the DWED conducted seven inspection campaigns of domestic worker recruitment firms that resulted in two violations against registered recruitment agencies, which were subsequently suspended from one to three months. DWED also reported identifying 17 fake recruitment offices (compared with six in 2020) and referred them to MOI for criminal investigation. Additionally, DWED suspended 13 recruitment firms for three to six months for violation of the domestic worker law, compared to 37 suspensions the previous year; officials did not report referring any of these for criminal investigation or prosecution. DWED was not permitted to inspect the conditions inside employers’ homes and could only inspect recruitment offices and companies, which limited the enforcement of the domestic workers law. An NGO noted that accessibility to the DWED for domestic workers was limited, as there was an expectation a worker needed to physically travel to the department to file a complaint. Domestic workers who did not have the freedom to leave their employer’s home may not have been able to file a complaint with the government against their employer during the reporting period, rendering them vulnerable to further exploitation, including trafficking.
Separately, as of November 2021, PAM received 21,473 official grievances from foreign migrant workers, the most common of which included pay discrepancies, denied requests to transfer employers after the required three years with a visa sponsor, and disputes regarding overtime pay issuances, a significant increase compared with 10,498 complaints received in 2020. Authorities reported they resolved 412 cases directly through arbitration, referred 6,139 complaints to the courts, referred 119 companies to either the PPO or MOI, and issued administrative penalties to 2,929 companies for committing labor violations. Additionally, PAM identified hundreds of companies that engaged in fraudulent practices by sponsoring workers yet failed to provide legitimate employment. Local media reported from March 2020 to September 2021, the government closed 800 fake companies for visa trading, but the government did not report whether it referred any of the company owners for criminal investigation or prosecution. However, in June 2021, media reported the Court of Appeals sentenced a business owner to seven years’ imprisonment for bringing migrant workers from abroad to work on a fraudulent government project. PAM continued to utilize the crisis and emergency teams in addition to the existing inspection teams to monitor the conditions of expatriate workers during the pandemic. In December 2020, PAM announced that it would no longer conceal the types of violations and crimes by companies found guilty of trafficking by removing obscure codes for 10,000 companies’ files and replacing the codes with clear information on their violations and crimes, such as violating workers’ rights, failure to pay salaries, and visa trading. The government reported that this information would eventually become accessible to the public via a website.
In adherence to the labor law regulating employment of domestic workers, the government’s centralized recruitment company, Al-Durra, worked to reduce recruitment costs, curb illegal recruitment fees, provide greater oversight of recruiting practices, hire male domestic workers, and secure labor agreements for female employees. However, Al-Durra stopped recruiting domestic workers in early 2020 due to pandemic-related shutdowns and had not resumed recruiting at the close of the reporting period. In 2019, Al-Durra stopped working with expatriate employers after complaints suggested the mechanism was established to help Kuwaitis and was subsequently made available for Kuwaiti citizens only. The most common nationalities hired previously through Al-Durra included those from the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, and Burkina Faso; Al-Durra only recruited domestic workers from countries with which it had a memorandum of understanding (MOU). Al-Durra reported in cases where a domestic worker suffered abuse or maltreatment from an employer, the agency filed a complaint against the employer and reported the complaint to the “competent authorities.” Kuwait maintained its agreement with the Philippine government to regulate the recruitment and employment of Filipino domestic workers in Kuwait to better safeguard their legal protections. Separately from Al-Durra, private recruitment agencies operated in Kuwait, and the government also maintained agreements with several other labor-source countries specific to domestic worker recruitment. The Commerce Ministry capped employer-paid recruitment fees to agencies to recruit domestic employees at 890 KD ($2,950); a portion of the fee was frequently illegally transferred from the employer to the domestic worker through salary deduction or debt bondage. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts by continuing to enforce the law that makes prostitution illegal and by carrying out raids on entities allegedly engaged in commercial sex practices. The government provided annual anti-trafficking training for most of its diplomatic personnel, but not all diplomats received training during the reporting period.