Sondos al-Qattan, a beauty blogger in Kuwait, has received some Internet fury after complaining about Kuwait’s new laws protecting the rights of foreign workers according to the UK’s Independent, fury which she claims is Islamophobic, anti-hijab and anti-Kuwait.
Kuwait recently started implementing reforms to its kafala system which mean that employers can no longer confiscate foreign workers’ passports, no longer demand working hours longer than 12 hours a day, and have to give their employees at least one day off a week.
They also gain 30 days leave a year.
To put this into context, in South Africa our maximum ordinary working hours you can be expected to work in a week is 45 hours. Kuwait’s improved kafala system involves a 72 hour week, and this was heralded by Human Rights Watch as a breakthrough, and is what al-Qattan is complaining about.
“How can you have a servant at home who gets to keep their passport with them? If they ran away and went back to their country, who’ll refund me?” al-Qattan complained.
When criticised over her views, al-Qattan responded that she was just telling the truth, and that her critics were deeming her wanting to keep her domestic worker’s passport to be racism and enslavement.
Of course I did not have to offer any apology, because I was telling the truth.
“Why judge me [over keeping] my worker’s passport, with the aim of ensuring my safety?
This is the weakness to identity politics. Horrible individuals like al-Qattan want criticisms of their personal horribleness to reflect on the general population group they identify with.
That way they can continue being horrible with a whole identity behind them, rather than have to face the music alone. If the innocent suffer with the guilty, the innocent are forced to defend the guilty.
The fact is Kuwait’s kafala system is unacceptable. Employers have historically held onto their workers passports in order to trap them, and force them to give up their wages just so that they can leave. What do we call unpaid labour? Slavery.
South Africa is full of caring, compassionate Muslims who wouldn’t dream of making their workers suffer the same conditions as those under Kuwait’s kafala system, are they anti Islam?
And you know, being anti-Kuwait? When a country is wrong we should be anti it. Was it wrong to be anti South Africa during Apartheid?
Our economy is increasingly globalised, which means that business can exploit poor working conditions in other countries to “cut costs” and shaft workers in better off nations.
We need global labour solidarity on this and in other instances where workers’ rights are abused, or else we end up in a race to the bottom as wherever has the worst labour laws gets the most manufacturing.
We live in a world where goods can cross borders easily, and people need passports. We stand together or get exploited, those are our choices.