Saudi Arabia sets a precedent in the Gulf region in the fight against forced labour

May 27, 2021

Saudi Arabia becomes the first country of the Gulf Cooperation Council to ratify the ILO Protocol on Forced Labour.

Photo: Elephant Rock, al-Ula, Saudi Arabia (© Richard Mortel)


On 26 May 2021, Saudi Arabia ratified the ILO Protocol on Forced Labour, becoming the 52nd country worldwide and the first among members of the Gulf Cooperation Council to ratify this instrument. Hereby, the country commits to take effective measures to prevent forced labour, sanction its perpetrators, and protect its victims and ensure their access to justice and remedies.

During the ratification ceremony, Guy Ryder, Director General of the ILO, welcomed this ratification, “which reflects the commitment of Saudi Arabia to combat forced labour in a period of time in which many workers are at greater risk of failing into situations analogous to slavery due to the economic crisis generated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Saudi Arabia’s ratification of the Protocol also marks an important precedent in the Gulf region in the fight against human trafficking”.

According to the latest ILO global estimates, there are still 25 million men, women and children trapped in forced labour today. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the risk of the most vulnerable workers, including migrant workers, to be tricked and trapped in forced labour. The risk of increasing debt bondage is particularly important.

“The ratification step comes in the context of the Kingdom’s continued commitment to combating forced labour and human trafficking. Protocol 29 will strengthen the current legal framework in Saudi Arabia and will help the Government take further steps to protect workers from fraudulent and abusive practices” declared the Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Ambassador Abdulaziz Al Wasil.

At the national level, in 2009, Saudi Arabia adopted a Human Trafficking Act and established a standing committee to combat trafficking in persons. In 2017, the country also adopted a National Plan for Combatting Human Trafficking. With the support of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Government has implemented a national referral mechanism on trafficking in persons, to ensure coordination in the area of protection, assistance and care for victims of trafficking in the country. In addition, Saudi Arabia has undertaken efforts to protect migrant workers victims of forced labour, including the implementation of corrective regulatory measures such as passport recovery, transfer of servicers, cancellation of malicious absconding reports, and termination of contractual relationships, among others.