The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of two domestic workers in the UK who were exploited by their former employer, Jarallah al-Malki, a Saudi diplomat. As reported by The Guardian, the ruling clarified that the Malki was no longer protected by diplomatic immunity and that employing a domestic worker did not fall under a diplomat’s official functions. The domestic workers, Cherrylin Reyes and Titin Rohaetin Suryadi, can now proceed with their case against Malki.
The two women worked for the Saudi diplomat in 2011 and claim that they were required to work 18 hours every day, seven days a week, without the freedom to leave the house unless escorted by a member of the Malki family. Reyes says her passport was confiscated and she was denied contact with her family. Suryadi added that she was only ever paid twice — once for £195 and again for £238. The Home Office has identified both women as victims of human trafficking.
Reyes tried for a tribunal case against Malki, but the court of appeal told her that Jarallah was covered by diplomatic immunity. This ruling by the Supreme court, however, reverses this:
A majority of justices accepted that employing someone in assumed conditions of slave labour amounted to trafficking – a “commercial activity” outside a diplomat’s official role, so usual diplomatic protections would not apply.
An estimated 200-300 migrant domestic workers are brought to the UK each year to work for diplomats. While many domestic workers are from the Philippines, Indonesia, and India, they usually come to the UK via countries like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, and the UAE. Several of these workers, including Reyes and Suryadi, come to the UK under a “kafala” agreement — a system common in Gulf states that ties migrant workers to their employers so the workers are not permitted to leave their jobs or the country without their employer’s permission.
Reyes said in response to the verdict, “I am delighted that the supreme court agrees that I can take my claim against the al-Malkis. I know there are lots of other domestic workers who have suffered like me and I am delighted that they will be able to use this case to get redress, and that they will not have to wait as long as I have done.”