The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirate - rely heavily on migrant labour, largely from South and South-East Asia. There are an estimated 20 million migrant workers in the Gulf; they account for 10% migrants globally and up to 90% of the manual labour force in the Gulf.
Despite making significant contributions to the economic development of their host countries and to remittance outflows to their home countries, migrant workers face abuse, discrimination and exploitation by unscrupulous employers, facilitated by the kafala (sponsorship) system, as well as significant obstacles to accessing justice and remedy when abuses occur.
Migrant workers in the Gulf construction sector are particularly at risk of labour exploitation; new stadiums, state-of-the-art exhibition venues, modern transport links and all other major construction projects in the Gulf are built by migrants. Reforms introduced by governments in the region in recent years fall short of providing adequate protection for migrant workers. Many construction companies – both national and international – fail to meet their responsibilities under the UN Guiding Principles for Business & Human Rights, putting profits ahead of worker welfare. Low wage construction workers remain vulnerable to abuse and exploitation including withheld wages, heat stress and other health and safety concerns, restricted mobility, lack of access to grievance mechanisms, and substandard living conditions.