Domestic workers remain unprotected under new Ethiopia-Lebanon agreement -

Domestic workers remain unprotected under new Ethiopia-Lebanon agreement

  • Published on
    June 19, 2023
  • News Source Image
  • Category:
    Domestic Slavery
Hero Banner

A new labor agreement between Ethiopia and Lebanon fails to adequately protect domestic workers who are subject to the notorious kafala system in Lebanon.

Domestic workers excluded from labor law protections

For the hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian workers in Lebanon, the new agreement does not go far enough to protect them from exploitative work conditions and doesn’t include minimum salary requirements.

Migrant domestic workers in Lebanon are excluded from the country’s Labour Law and are instead governed by the kafala system, a sponsorship system whereby the workers’ right to work and live in the country is tied to their employer. Domestic workers would continue to be excluded from Lebanon’s Labour Law under the new bilateral agreement.

The exploitation of domestic workers is inevitably facilitated under these conditions. Employers are secure in the knowledge that their employee cannot leave their employment without risking detention and deportation, and so an extreme power imbalance drives exploitative labor conditions while leaving migrant domestic workers with little recourse to grievance and justice mechanisms.

Zecharias Zelalem writes in the Middle East Eye:

Since the 1980s, women from developing countries in Asia and Africa have flocked to the Middle East for low-paying jobs as housekeepers, with Lebanon among the choice destinations.

But scores of Ethiopian workers have died in Lebanon over the past two decades as a result of suicides, accidental deaths and murders that are rarely investigated by Lebanese or Ethiopian authorities.

In 2017, at least two migrant domestic workers in Lebanon were estimated to die weekly. Others have gone missing for years.

Passport confiscation still a problem

The current draft of the bilateral agreement would also leave the door open to passport confiscation as a result of wording in the document that proposes efforts to address “unlawful withholding of [workers’] passports”. According to Dr. Mehari Taddele Maru, a professor at the School of Transnational Governance and Migration Policy Centre at the European University Institute:

“Passport seizure should be considered unlawful by default. Adding an adjective opens the door for the law to decide what form of seizure by employers would be deemed legal or illegal, and there can be no guarantees for workers who are already excluded from legal protections.”

Earlier this year, hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian women were being recruited by their own government for domestic work in Saudi Arabia, despite its longstanding record of abuse and torture.

Take action!

Help end domestic slavery by adding your name to the petition calling on governments to ratify the international convention on domestic work C189. Neither Ethiopia nor Lebanon have ratified this convention.


Freedom United is interested in hearing from our community and welcomes relevant, informed comments, advice, and insights that advance the conversation around our campaigns and advocacy. We value inclusivity and respect within our community. To be approved, your comments should be civil.

stop icon A few things we do not tolerate: comments that promote discrimination, prejudice, racism, or xenophobia, as well as personal attacks or profanity. We screen submissions in order to create a space where the entire Freedom United community feels safe to express and exchange thoughtful opinions.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

This week

Nowhere left to hide: new evidence links Volkswagen to Uyghur forced labor

In the midst of mounting concerns surrounding forced labor in China’s Uyghur Region, German automaker Volkswagen once again finds itself embroiled in controversy over its operations in the region. Recent reports suggest that forced labor may have been utilized in the construction of the company’s test track in the Uyghur Region under the joint venture with its Chinese partner SAIC. Volkswagen ignored all the forced labor red flags German media broke

| Wednesday February 14, 2024

Read more