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The Cost of Contagion: The human rights impacts of COVID-19 on migrant workers in the Gulf

2022

Summary

In November 2022, world leaders from government and business will gather at the G20 Summit hosted by Saudi Arabia. A statement on the Summit released by the Saudi Arabia government speaks of “Empowering People” and addressing a global economy that “is not delivering for all” and as “inequalities are growing amidst a rapidly evolving environment.” The ongoing global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic will undoubtedly be a major topic for discussion. Under its presidency of the G20 this year, Saudi Arabia promises to “focus on policies that promote the equality of opportunities especially for underserved groups.” As this report documents, the ground reality is very different from these noble aspirations. Governments and businesses in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and, to a lesser extent in Qatar, have been guilty of racial discrimination in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic, acting quickly to provide financial and other benefits to local business and nationals, while leaving thousands of migrant workers in jobless destitution and, in some instances, facing death, and the ever-present risk of being infected by a deadly virus. Equidem’s research uncovered cases of unpaid wages and other exploitation that cut across sectors and businesses big and small. Companies have placed migrant workers on drastically reduced salaries or unpaid leave without their consent and inadequate monitoring by state authorities. Even some of the largest businesses in the region are guilty of practices that amount to discrimination, modern slavery or labour exploitation with regard to workers in their supply chains.

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covid-19 migrant workers

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