Silicon Valley’s Online Slave Market – full documentary – BBC News Arabic | BBC Africa Eye


In the Gulf, women, employed as domestic workers,
are being sold online, via apps provided by Google and Apple. It’s been called an online slave market. BBC News Arabic goes undercover in Kuwait
to expose this shocking and disturbing online trade. It’s an unregulated black market depriving
women and children of their basic human rights, leaving them at risk of exploitation and abuse. All made possible by the Silicon Valley tech
giants. What they are doing is illegal. If Google, Apple, Facebook or any other company
is promoting apps like these, hosting apps like these they are promoting an online slave market. In Kuwait, 90% of households employ a domestic
worker – that’s one for every two Kuwaiti citizens. The government of Kuwait passed a new law
in 2015, giving domestic workers more rights. Together we are stronger. And imposing stricter regulations on this
multi-billion dollar industry. But it’s generated a lot of controversy. These new laws have pushed many to turn to
a booming new industry, where domestic workers are bought and sold online. All you need is a Google or Apple smartphone. Ann Abunda is the founder of Sandigan. An organisation that fights for the welfare
and rights of domestic workers in Kuwait. Our BBC team pose as a husband and wife looking to buy a domestic worker. For their safety we cannot reveal their identities. We download an app called 4Sale, the most
popular commodity app in Kuwait, available on the Apple App Store and Google Play. Amongst cars, lawnmowers, and TVs, there’s
a dedicated section where you can buy a domestic worker. Our undercover team get ready to meet the
seller Our female undercover reporter stays inside
with the domestic worker. This policeman was knowingly breaking the
law. He was trying to sell us his domestic worker,
he had confiscated her passport and didn’t give her a day off. All of which is illegal in Kuwait. Over the course of a week, our undercover
team spoke to 57 users of 4Sale. It has an inbuilt feature that lets you filter
by race, violating Kuwaiti law and international law. The women cost between $2,500 and $5000 US dollars (or £2,000 and £4,000). Under Kuwait’s domestic worker law it is
illegal not to give your domestic worker a day off per week. It’s also illegal for the employer to keep
hold of their domestic worker’s passport. But it’s not only happening in Kuwait, and
4Sale is not the only app being used. In Saudi Arabia we found hundreds of women
being sold on Haraj, another popular commodity app. And on Facebook-owned Instagram we found
hundreds more. Many sellers used racist and discriminatory
language as part of their sales pitch. And in most cases, the women had no knowledge
they were being advertised online, and then sold. Since 2010, Ann’s organisation, Sandigan, has rescued thousands of women from abusive households. In Kuwait it’s illegal for a domestic worker
to run away from their employer. Ann was never charged with a crime. And since being released from prison she’s
dedicated her life to helping other vulnerable domestic workers in Kuwait. Under the “Kafala” system, domestic workers
are brought into the country by agencies and then officially registered with the government. Potential employers pay the agencies a fee
and become the official sponsor of the domestic worker. Under the “Kafala” system, a domestic
worker cannot change or quit her job, nor leave the country without her sponsor’s
permission. Apps like 4Sale, Haraj and Instagram enable
employers to sell the sponsorship of their domestic workers to other employers, for a
profit. This bypasses the agencies and creates an
unregulated black market that leaves women more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. A new ad appears on 4sale, an African domestic
worker for $3,800 US Dollars. Our BBC undercover team arrange to meet the
seller. Nothing can prepare them for what happens
next. We are shocked to find this woman offering
to sell us a child. The young girl seems withdrawn and confused. By employing a domestic worker under the age
of 21, this woman is breaking Kuwaiti law, and could face up to six months in prison. She had also confiscated the girl’s passport,
didn’t allow her any time off, or to leave the house alone, all of which are illegal. This is the quintessential example of modern
slavery. Here we see a child being sold and traded
like chattel, like a piece of property. Urmila Bhoola is the UN special Rapporteur
on contemporary forms of slavery. We see coercion and control being exercised
by the employer over this very vulnerable child. What they are doing is illegal. It is not only in violation of national Kuwaiti
law. It is a violation of international human rights
law and labour standards. We take our video of the young girl to Ann. Ann starts an investigation to see if she
can contact the 16-year-old girl, who, to protect her identity, we will call ‘Fatou’. Hello, hello sir. She alerts the Guinean Embassy to see what
they can do. The embassy needs her full name in order to
make inquiries. Ann asks our BBC undercover team if we can
try to persuade the seller to give us Fatou’s passport details. The passport reveals her surname to be ‘Bongono,’
and her place of birth Conakry, the capital city of Guinea. Now that Ann has Fatou’s passport she goes
back to the Guinean Embassy. She’s avoiding going directly to the Kuwaiti
authorities for fear that they could arrest Fatou for being in Kuwait illegally. We head to Guinea to see what the police can
do to help track down Fatou’s family. They don’t have any record of her going
to Kuwait, but they introduce us to Jacques, a policeman who has the same surname as Fatou. Jacques decides to take time off his official
duties as a policeman to look for Fatou’s family and see if they are aware of her situation. He starts the search among the Bongono community
in Conakry. Jacques continues his search amongst the Bongono
community in Conakry, but no one recognises her. Hundreds of underage girls are trafficked
from Guinea each year. It’s a lucrative industry for traffickers,
and a last resort for families trying to escape poverty. We arrange to meet a trafficker to find out
how a young girl like Fatou could end up in Kuwait. He agrees to talk to us as long as we conceal
his identity. As we’re filming, he spots two girls who
have recently returned from Kuwait. See this one too? There was nothing good there. We arrange to meet Nana, Esther and another girl, Biba away from the watchful eyes of the traffickers. Like Fatou, Biba, Nana and Esther were all
underage when they went to work in Kuwait. Biba, Nana and Esther met in prison, after
fleeing abusive employers. The three girls were bailed out by their families. But it’s estimated there are hundreds of
domestic workers languishing in prisons in Kuwait. We also show them the 4Sale app. Their experiences of being moved multiple times between employers without any choice bear the signs of being bought and sold using the apps. The majority of migrant domestic workers,
women workers, are extremely vulnerable to exploitation in modern slavery. They are in a strange environment, generally
unfamiliar with the language, not allowed to communicate with their peers and live in
isolation often with the employer. Here we see an example of how digital technology
is used negatively to violate their fundamental human rights and to cause harm. Google, Apple and Facebook all claim that
they prohibit modern slavery and human trafficking on their platforms. Google’s Policy Against Modern Slavery,
states that they are comitted to eliminating modern slavery in all its forms. Facebook’s own community standards say
they do not allow organisations or individuals involved in human trafficking on their platforms. And Apple’s App Store review guidelines
say that any discriminatory content including references to religion, race, gender or ethnic
origin are banned. But we found thousands of domestic workers
being illegally sold using discriminatory language through hashtags used on Instagram
and other apps hosted by Google and Apple in violation of their own guidelines, and
international law. Back in Kuwait, Ann is desperately trying
to contact Fatou. Despite sending the Guinean Embassy her passport
details, they haven’t taken any action. Ann’s colleague doesn’t want to appear
on camera. Now that Fatou’s been sold on, there’s
no way of locating her other than going to the Kuwaiti government. It’s a move that Ann has been avoiding,
as it often results in the arrest of the domestic worker. In Guinea, Jacques decides to expand his search
for Fatou’s family to the remote forest regions of the country where the Bongono
family come from. It’s a 600 km drive from the capital. We arrive in Mongo, a small market town in
Gueckedou, where many people are Bongonos. Jacques hopes someone here will know Fatou’s
family. Word spreads that there is a girl missing,
and the room quickly fills with people. Back in Kuwait, Ann’s search for Fatou has
also hit a dead end. With no other options we take our video of
Fatou to the Kuwaiti authorities to see if they can help find her. Nasser al-Mousawi is Head of the Domestic
Workers Office. It’s his job to manage complaints and disputes
between domestic workers and their employers. When issues arise, Nasser calls in employers
and their domestic workers for questioning. Taking money for the domestic workers, just
to transfer their residency. Actually it has been going on for a long time
in Kuwait. May al-Tararwah is a lawyer at Social Work
Society, an organisation in Kuwait that supports domestic workers. I think that the lady is not aware of this
being a crime. She’s not aware of it. So, she did it because she felt it’s normal
because she’s old fashioned and that’s how they think. Ten days later, the Kuwaiti authorities contact Ann. There is good news. They have found Fatou. Ann arranges to meet Fatou at the state-run
shelter for domestic workers. A government official is present and we’re
not allowed to film their conversation. There are over 200 domestic workers in this
shelter. It’s intended as a temporary place for them
to stay while they’re fighting court battles or awaiting deportation. An hour later Ann returns. Fatou told Ann she’d been in Kuwait for
nine months and worked for three households. But during that time, she had only received
two months salary. Two days later, Fatou was deported back to
Guinea. Kuwait is one of the countries that has by
far one of the most liberal sets of laws in the region protecting domestic workers. Under Kuwaiti law it is illegal to advertise,
sell or enslave a domestic worker. But despite this legal protection we see a
domestic worker and a child domestic worker being sold in flagrant violation of law. It leaves us wondering about the extent of
implementation of the laws that are meant to protect workers. And whether in fact any employers are prosecuted
for their violations of law. As yet, Kuwait has not introduced any new
regulations to tackle the online market in domestic workers. The policeman and the woman who tried to sell
us Fatou did not provide us with a statement and no legal action has been taken against
them. The Kuwaiti government declined comment further
on Fatou’s case. Fatou is back in Conakry. Her uncle and grandmother can’t afford to
take care of her so she’s living with an adopted family. Fatou didn’t want to show her face on camera,
but she wants her story to be heard. Businesses have a fundamental responsibility
morally, ethically and legally to make sure that under national law and international
law these apps are removed and they are no longer available to the market. If Google, Apple, Facebook or any other companies
are hosting apps like these they have to be held accountable. What they are doing is promoting an online
slave market. The online slave market is still booming. And there are still thousands of domestic
workers being bought and sold on Instagram, Haraj, and other apps available on Google
Play and the Apple App Store. Unless governments enforce their own laws
and the Silicon Valley tech giants apply stricter regulations on their users, this online trade
will continue, leaving many women exposed to exploitation and abuse. Following our investigation, 4Sale, the app
which was used to sell Fatou, removed its domestic workers section and gave us this
statement: Facebook, which owns Instagram, told us: But we found hundreds of posts on Instagram,
using similar hashtags, being used to sell domestic workers. Haraj, the commodity app used in Saudi Arabia,
did not provide us with a statement. Google told the BBC: And Apple said:

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