Sondos Al-Qattan is a social media celebrity famous for her beauty tutorials on Instagram, where she has gathered over 2.3 million followers. However she now now risen to infamy after posting a video in which she denounced new laws which give Filipino workers a day off and the right to keep their own passports.
In her now deleted video, Al-Qattan explained her position on the new laws. “How can you have a servant at home who keeps their own passport with them? What if they run away and go back to their country? How would I get a refund?” she asks.
In Kuwait, and other Gulf nations, employers must pay fees to hire maid from agencies, in addition to fees for their visa. The system has been condemned by Humanitarian groups and foreign governments as being akin to slavery. It is known as the “Kafala system” and gives employers extensive powers over their expatriate workers.
“And what’s worse is they have one day off every week. I don’t want a Filipina maid anymore,” she added.
After the video went viral, Al-Qattan has been facing severe criticism on social media. Companies with ties to Al-Qattan are also moving to distance themselves from her and her remarks by issuing statements and withdrawing sponsorships. Her critics have been calling on her remaining sponsors to revoke their sponsorships from her as well.
Kuwait and the Philippines had recently come to agreement to settle a long standing diplomatic row which saw both nations withdraw their ambassadors. The diplomatic tensions escalated in the wake of the gruesome murder of Joanna Demafelis, a Filipino working as a housemaid. Demafelis had been missing from September of 2016. Her body was discovered locked inside a freezer in her employer’s household in February. Her employers were tried and convicted in absentia, and sentenced to death by hanging.
The death of Demafelis prompted Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to order a ban on the further deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait, and called for Filipino citizens in Kuwait to return home, triggering diplomatic tensions. The ban was lifted in May after Kuwait and the Philippines signed an agreement on workers’ rights.
Migrante International, an advocacy group for Filipinos working overseas said it “vehemently condemned” the statements made by Al-Qattan and strongly demanded a remorseful public apology from her.
This entirely reasonable demand however, has yet to materialize. Instead, Al-Qattan has stood her ground on her comments. She released a statement via Instagram in which she said. “I consider all employees as equal human being[sic].”
In her lengthy statement, she explained that she believes that an employer should keep the passport of an employee, regardless of their nationality, to protect the employer’s interest. She also says that because in the case of domestic workers, the employer and employee reside in the same house, share the same food, and because work is shared around the house she does not impose long working hours.
However, in Kuwait it is unfortunately entirely too common to hear stories of grievous abuses committed against migrant workers. Workers commonly report having their wages withheld in addition to being forced to work long hours with no days off or vacation time. Migrant workers have also reported physical and sexual abuse and have been jailed and deported for fleeing abusive employers.