Mauritanian Women Kept as Slaves in Saudi Arabia

photo: Photo: Oxfam

The ITUC has received alarming reports from Mauritanian trade unions that 900 Mauritanian women have been trafficked to work in Saudi Arabia.

Many are subject to abuse with no way out. The ITUC has called on the government of Mauritania to take immediate action to bring the women home and ensure compliance with international law.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary said, “Mauritania needs to act immediately to free the women who have been trafficked to Saudi Arabia and trapped in domestic slavery there, and to stop the traffickers and bring them to justice.”

While Mauritania still has difficulty coming to terms with traditional slavery, reports of contemporary forms of slavery such as human trafficking are on the rise.

Reports of trafficking are now reaching the Mauritanian unions on a daily basis. All of them report how they were promised decent wages and jobs in Saudi Arabia as nurses and teachers, only to find themselves employed as domestic workers, working for a few dollars a day. Their passports have been confiscated, and they cannot leave without permission from their employer. Many have suffered from sexual harassment. Some report being beaten and locked up in a room without food or water for a week. Others were threatened with rape for complaining about working conditions. When they asked to return home to Mauritania, their employers refused.

Mauritania ratified the ILO Forced Labour Convention (No. 29) in 1961. The ILO and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery have repeatedly requested the government to act, most recently during the ILO Conference last June.

“The Protocol to the ILO Forced Labour Convention adopted in 2014 provides a clear basis for action. It offers an updated framework for prevention and remediation of contemporary forms of slavery. It targets exactly the kind of abusive practices now being suffered by the migrant women working in Saudi Arabia. Mauritania and indeed all other countries need to ratify this Protocol make it work,” said Burrow.

Note: to join ITUC in calling on the government of Mauritania to take immediate action, please visit: