The government demonstrated increased efforts to prevent trafficking, although domestic workers remained excluded from the most recent sponsorship reforms, implemented in March 2021, which continued to render this population vulnerable to conditions of forced labor. The government developed a new 2021-2023 NAP in coordination with two international organizations, and in August 2021, the government finalized and adopted the NAP; the plan set priorities within four pillars: prevention, protection and assistance, prosecution, and partnership. The NCCHT met 10 times during the reporting period; it completed a review of an MHRSD study on labor recruitment regulations and practices; prepared a study and recommendations to ensure trafficking victims were exempt from fees, fines, or other sanctions; and updated the screening mechanism for undocumented migrants at detention centers, among other activities. The government also approved a National Policy to Prevent Child Labor and a corresponding NAP that included efforts to create a database to track child labor prevalence in the Kingdom with the support of an international organization, adopting a list of types of work prohibited for those younger than 18 years of age, improving social work and social protection mechanisms by building capacity of specialists in the field, promoting quality educational opportunities for all children, and raising awareness of child labor. In November 2021, the Kingdom hosted the third annual Governmental Forum against Trafficking in Persons in the Middle East, which focused on efforts of participating governments on international and national coordination in anti-trafficking efforts during the pandemic.
The government 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, complete and electronically sign contracts, and request a visa. The system was 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 served as a way to authenticate contracts for domestic workers in their home countries. Diplomats from multiple labor-source 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, which impeded efforts to track reported victims of abuse and trafficking. The application was also only available in English and Arabic, and therefore of limited use to potential domestic workers who did not speak, read, or understand such languages; in addition, an international organization noted that in cases where language barriers were present, a foreign domestic worker was unlikely to access the system and instead relied on recruitment agencies in their home country to provide and interpret the recruitment process. MHRSD reportedly fully implemented a program called Weddi (“friendly” in Arabic), which was an alternative dispute resolution mechanism whereby a worker could electronically submit a labor complaint and supporting documentation. If either the employee or employer rejected the proposed resolution via arbitration, officials would automatically transfer the case to the MOJ labor courts for administrative settlement.
The government continued to make efforts to prevent forced labor through its Single Electronic Contract and the Wage Protection System (WPS), both implemented through the Mudad electronic platform. In November 2020, MHRSD instituted the Single Electronic Contract, which made inclusion of information such as contract data, type of work, salary, duration of contract, working hours, weekends, and annual leave mandatory for all private sector companies. The initiative obligated companies to sign contracts with their employees enabling MHRSD to electronically account for, authenticate, and monitor all employment contracts in the private sector; each contract was verified by both the employer and employee and filed through the Mudad electronic platform. The platform also provided employees access to their contract and ensured MHSRD could impose sanctions on establishments that contravened the terms contained therein; the contract on file could also be used in a potential labor dispute. Representatives from labor-source countries reported the e-contract was a helpful tool that enhanced transparency and accountability for their nationals who raised labor disputes against an employer during the reporting year. The government reported that if an employer did not have an e-contract on file that an employee could approve electronically, the employer could be fined up to 3,000 SAR ($800), multiplied by the number of employees at the company. At the end of the reporting period, MHSRD reported 2.9 million ratified expatriate contracts existed within the Mudad system, out of a total of 6.8 million expatriate employee contracts in the Kingdom; however, the government did not report the number of violations recorded against employers for not having electronic contracts on file during the year. The government’s WPS continued to require employers to pay foreign workers by electronic transfer via a Saudi bank, thereby permitting the government to track disbursements and non- or delayed payment of wages. In December 2020, the government extended the WPS and required 100 percent of private sector companies to register, including those with just one employee. The government also used the Mudad platform to track WPS compliance in real-time, and through this electronic platform, a notification of payment was sent to the employee. The government reported that in instances where employers withheld wages from the employee, the system required the employer to explain the reason for non-payment; the explanation would be sent to the employee for approval. If approval was not given, the MHSRD reported it would investigate the employer and screen for other potential trafficking indicators. For any employer or firm who failed to maintain at least 80 percent compliance on a monthly basis or failed to submit monthly WPS data, the government could impose penalties, including suspension of government services and recruitment privileges. The government reported a 2021 compliance rate of 72.5 percent for companies with 30 or more workers and a 25 percent compliance rate for companies with 11-29 workers The WPS was not available for domestic workers; however, the government continued to mandate employers of domestic workers issue prepaid payroll or salary cards as soon as the worker arrived in the Kingdom. During the year, the government reported it was considering how to mandate electronic payments for domestic workers but did not report new efforts to do so.
In March 2021, as part of the Labor Reform Initiative (LRI), implemented through Ministerial Resolution No. 51848/1442, the government mandated private sector workers no longer needed their employer’s permission to travel abroad (obtain an exit and re-entry visa), obtain final exit visas, or change employers at the conclusion of their contract or after one year; this provided increased freedom of movement and therefore may have reduced the risk of forced labor for seven million private sector workers in the Kingdom. Workers could use electronic applications to automate the process for transferring employment, notify an employer of an employee’s departure and re-entry, and receive a final exit visa. Between March 2021 and December 2021, the government reported 147,878 foreign workers changed employers without the consent of their current employer and 1,107,747 foreign workers obtained final exit permits without employer consent. Several NGOs continued to express concern these reforms did not include the 3.7 million domestic workers employed in Saudi Arabia, a group highly vulnerable to trafficking and other abuse. The government reported it was considering ways to ensure domestic workers would receive similar protections in the near future but did not report any action to include this population within the reforms. NGOs also reported concerns the visa sponsorship system would persist as long as both the employee’s work and residence visas were tied to an employer. Additionally, these organizations noted the reforms did not abolish the exit permit entirely—as a worker still submitted a request to MHRSD for an exit permit, and the ministry notified the employer electronically of the worker’s request. The employer, subsequently, had 10 days to lodge an inquiry into the worker’s exit permit request, and an employer’s inquiry could potentially be used to deny the worker an exit permit. During the reporting period, labor-source embassy representatives raised concerns that although the LRI had reduced the number of complaints from their citizens regarding labor abuses, some employers filed absconding charges as a retaliatory measure against their employees to prevent them from changing employers or obtaining a final exit visa. MHRSD reported it was studying a proposal to modify the employee-employer contractual relationship to address employers pursuing retaliatory actions to prevent their employees from exercising their rights under the reforms; however, MHRSD did not report taking action on the proposal by the close of the reporting period. The Council of Ministers’ Decision 166 prohibited withholding workers’ passports as a violation punishable by fines, but the government did not report if it issued any such fines during the reporting period.
The labor law does not encompass domestic work; therefore its protections do not extend to such workers. However, Decision No. 310/1434 of 2013 granted some protections for this population through regulations on working hours, rest periods, annual leave, end of service benefits, written employment contracts, and payment of wages on a monthly basis. Under this decision, domestic workers included both male and female household workers, private drivers, gardeners, and security guards. International NGOs continued to express concern that gaps in the law left domestic workers vulnerable to passport confiscation or being charged recruitment fees. Additionally, the law did not require compensation for overtime, nor did it limit the workday to eight hours (domestic workers could work up to 15 hours a day including breaks). The law also included vague provisions on suitable accommodation, paid sick leave, and healthcare. NGOs reported domestic workers experienced non-payment of salaries, forced confinement, food deprivation, excessive workloads, and severe psychological, physical, and sexual abuse. Authorities only sought authorization to enter a home if there was overwhelming evidence of a crime, which may have left some unidentified victims at risk of exploitation and without protection, especially if a domestic worker could not leave their employer’s home to report abuse. However, during the reporting year, in the case involving 28 Vietnamese domestic workers identified as potential trafficking victims, PPO representatives issued search warrants for the suspected residences earlier in the investigative process, which allowed police to question the potential victims and refer them to shelter for care more quickly. Domestic workers could change employers with their sponsor’s permission at any time and without sponsor permission after two years of employment; a transfer of sponsorship could be made at any time without the employer’s permission in several circumstances, including if the employer failed to pay the salary of the worker for three consecutive months, failed to obtain a residency permit or renew an expired permit, abused the worker, or filed a false absconding charge against the worker. In December 2019, the government removed the requirement for employer approval to receive a final exit visa for domestic workers whose sponsors failed to pay required fees or renew a worker’s status or were absent. In practice, however, international NGOs reported in some cases domestic workers who experienced such circumstances were not able to change employers or obtain exit permits. In one example, when a domestic worker attempted to contact police to change sponsors after she experienced non-payment of wages, extremely long working hours, and physical abuse, the police located her and transferred her to a detention center.
During the reporting period, the government continued to raise awareness of trafficking, targeting employers; migrant workers, including domestic workers; labor-source country embassies; and the general public. The NCCHT continued to use its Twitter accounts in both Arabic and English to raise awareness on trafficking. The HRC also continued to make awareness materials accessible in English and Arabic through its website and Twitter accounts and, during the reporting period, met with representatives from labor-source embassies to cooperate in the translation and dissemination of trafficking-related materials into other languages. In conjunction with World Day against Trafficking in Persons on July 30, 2021, the HRC launched a week-long social media campaign that included statements from the NCCHT, PPO, and MOI to raise awareness of trafficking; simultaneously, MHRSD conducted a two-week awareness campaign focused on indicators of the crime and utilized videos, infographics, and media appearances by ministry representatives on television and radio. In August 2021, MHRSD conducted a month-long awareness campaign on trafficking indicators and worker’s rights, which included billboards and signs, in both Arabic and English, in airports and along major highways throughout the country. Additionally, also in August, the MHRSD conducted a social media campaign to raise awareness of the rights of domestic workers. The HRC collaborated with the Saudi Telecom Company to send text messages to the public to raise awareness of the anti-trafficking law and its provisions and penalties imposed on perpetrators. In 2022, MHRSD conducted one additional campaign in Arabic and English that targeted embassies of labor-source countries, focusing on trafficking indicators, workers’ rights, and methods to report labor violations. Lastly, in February 2022, a sermon at the Grand Mosque condemned human trafficking as a violation of Islamic values and asserted Islamic law protected human dignity and banned forced labor; the sermon was broadcast internationally and called on the public to report suspected trafficking cases. In the previous reporting period, MHRSD officials launched a program to send labor attachés to key labor-source countries to enhance coordination on suspected trafficking cases and ensure workers from labor-source countries were adequately informed of their rights before arriving in Saudi Arabia. In September 2020, the first Saudi representative arrived in the Philippines, and in March 2021, the second Saudi representative arrived in Egypt; five additional attachés for Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka had not reported to their respective countries by the close of the reporting period.
MHRSD officials operated a 24-hour call center that could receive calls in six major labor-source country languages: Arabic, English, Filipino, French, Hindi, and Indonesian. The call center received approximately 280 calls per day on average. The MHRSD hotline was included in pamphlets given to all foreign workers who entered the Kingdom during the year. The MOI’s crime reporting app, Koolna (“All of Us”), continued to have a feature that allowed users to report trafficking crimes as a standalone option. The HRC continued to operate a separate center to receive calls, texts, and WhatsApp messages; it was staffed with operators trained on identifying potential trafficking cases and could receive calls in English and Arabic. The NCCHT continued to allow individuals to submit information on potential trafficking crimes through its website but did not report if it received such information during the year. The government regularly shared all hotline numbers on social media platforms; furthermore, all hotline operators had standard checklists to screen calls for trafficking indicators, and if a potential case was identified, operators referred the case to the applicable points of contact per the NRM. The government identified 207 potential trafficking cases via its hotlines, including 81 cases from the HRC’s call center and 126 from the MHRSD call center; it referred all 207 cases to MOI for further investigation. Some workers and labor-source country officials continued to report impracticalities and technical difficulties getting through to call center operators, citing poorly trained and under-resourced staff.
The government deployed labor inspectors and HRC officials—400 of whom specialized in trafficking crimes—to conduct 1,321,963 labor inspections to monitor the application of employment and recruitment laws; 92,296 inspections were conducted in response to worker complaints and resulted in the identification of 179,844 violations. The government identified 28 potential trafficking cases during these inspections and referred them to MOI for further investigation, compared with 17 potential trafficking cases referred in 2020 from inspections. Diplomatic representatives from several countries continued to report improvements in Saudi government oversight of labor recruitment and the proper implementation of labor contracts. The government continued to provide a questionnaire for labor inspectors to complete for situations where they suspected a trafficking crime; inspectors sent completed forms following an inspection to MHRSD’s anti-trafficking department to be referred for criminal investigation. The HRC Secretariat reported receiving 271 general complaints from workers during the reporting period; 218 of those complaints were referred to MHRSD, which then referred the complaints to MOI and PPO for further investigation. MHRSD reported processing 24,136 complaints filed through its Domestic Labor Dispute Committee and Trafficking Hotline Program but did not report if it referred any of these complaints to MOI or PPO for further investigation. The government had several bilateral labor agreements with labor-source countries, including Ethiopia and Indonesia, which set minimum wage standards and regulated protections and benefits for migrant workers, such as hours, mandatory time off, and overarching conditions. The government did not report efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government provided anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.