For further information on the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights please visit https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Business/Forum/Pages/2019ForumBHR.aspx

For further information on the work of the Working Group on Business and Human Rights please visit https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Business/Pages/WGHRandtransnationalcorporationsandotherbusiness.aspx 
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Tuesday, November 26 • 10:30 - 12:30
Film - Silicon Valley's online slave market

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Short description the session
This documentary exposes how Google, Apple and Facebook-owned Instagram are enabling an illegal online slave market by providing and approving apps used for the buying and selling of domestic workers in the Gulf. BBC News Arabic’s undercover investigation exposes app users in Kuwait breaking local and international laws on modern slavery, including a woman offering a child for sale. The discovery of “Fatou” in Kuwait City, her rescue and journey back home to Guinea, West Africa, is at the heart of this powerful and shocking investigation into Silicon Valley’s Online Slave Market.
The documentary reveals, for the first time, the tech giants’ complicity in the abuse and enslavement of domestic workers. Extraordinary access inside people’s homes, captured on undercover cameras, enabled BBC journalists to witness first-hand the degrading treatment of these women. With a clear framework for data gathering established, the team was able to gather the evidence needed in order to confidently describe this trade as slavery.
The Q&A – which will draw on the audience’s knowledge too - will explore questions of corporate responsibility, implementation of the Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights by tech companies, the state’s duty to protect, State’s responsibility to end contemporary forms of slavery by 2030 and access to remedy for the women in the film.

Session objectives
Powerful journalism has made possible the real world impact that we’ve seen since the documentary’s release – the bringing down of hundreds of Instagram accounts and hashtags in breach of their guidelines, the removal of “Maidsfortransfer” sections for both the 4Sale app in Kuwait and Haraj, in Saudi Arabia and the triggering of a vibrant conversation across Kuwait about the treatment of domestic workers. It has also led to Kuwaiti and Saudi authorities promising further action, including action against specific users of the apps.
But there is a lot more that could be done:
  • At a local level there is a wide empathy and understanding gap between locals and domestic workers.
  • There has been a failure by the Kuwaiti authorities to enforce laws around human trafficking and modern slavery on locals as well as expats – illustrated by the lack of arrests or legal action taken against sellers or the apps after the findings of the investigation were revealed.
  • Modern Slavery legislation around the world – apart from in a few countries – are often not enforceable and are too narrowly defined making it hard for the authorities to take action.
  • Silicon Valley giants – Google, Apple and Facebook-owned Instagram – can make and break their own Terms and Conditions as well as their own Modern Slavery statement without consequence, creating a blatant lack of accountability.
The objective of this session is to explore where responsibility lies for these failings, what action could be taken and by whom.

According to the ILO nearly a third of the world’s domestic workers are in the Gulf. In 2016, there were 3.77 million domestic workers in Oman, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
They are bound by the kafala system to their employer, their “sponsor”. This film is about why the practice of visa trading is slavery – where a worker’s visa is sold to another sponsor, most often without them having any say in the transfer, for a profit. And how the market is now accessible on your smartphone via the top tech companies in the world.
The nature of domestic work means that the women and their lives are isolated from the outside world, rare glimpses captured only in their stories after escape or videos uploaded by employers onto social media.
These stories of abuse are often politicised by one organisation or government another and used as weapons in a fight that is not their own.
The struggle of these women is powerfully illustrated in Silicon Valley’s Online Slave Market in the way the adverts are presented and the way the employers talk about them and their rights.
The film further explores the realities of this lived experience through the story of the child discovered whilst the team was undercover, Fatou, and the recently escaped domestic workers in Conakry - Esther, Bibi and Nana - in their own words.

avatar for Amol Mehra

Amol Mehra

Managing Director, The Freedom Fund

avatar for Bennett Freeman

Bennett Freeman

Co-founder and Board Secretary, Global Network Initiative (GNI)
Over the last 17 years of a three decade-long career, Bennett Freeman has worked at the intersection of multinational companies, responsible investors, NGOs, governments and international institutions to promote corporate responsibility, sustainability and human rights around the... Read More →

Mustafa Khalili

Editor, Digital Documentaries, BBC Eye Investigations
Mustafa Khalili is a multi-award filmmaker with 20 years experience in an ever changing media landscape. He is a cross-platform storyteller that has overseen many complex edits. He has a passion for news and current affairs, with a proven track record of building award-winning teams... Read More →
avatar for Jess Kelly

Jess Kelly

Director of Silicon Valley’s Online Slave Market, BBC Arabic
Jess Kelly is documentary filmmaker and journalist with particular interest in the Middle East. Her latest film, 'Silicon Valley’s Online Slave Market' investigates the illegal trade of domestic workers in the Gulf, via mobile phone apps hosted by Google and Apple. She currently... Read More →
avatar for Urmila Bhoola

Urmila Bhoola

Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences

Tuesday November 26, 2019 10:30 - 12:30 CET