The Ethiopian government has come under scrutiny for its aggressive campaign to promote domestic labor opportunities for Ethiopian women in Saudi Arabia. With the backdrop of economic challenges, the government perceives these overseas employment programs as a potential solution to alleviate its pressing foreign-currency shortage.
To boost this initiative, state institutions, from government ministries to local administrations, have extensively used Facebook as a platform. Since the start of the year, there have been more than 200 official promotions on Facebook by Ethiopian state entities, urging women to seize these job opportunities. These promotions emphasize the financial benefits while downplaying potential pitfalls.
However, critics argue that these advertisements often sidestep the harsh realities of the migrant labor system in Saudi Arabia. At the heart of the concern is the “kafala” or sponsorship system, a practice that binds a worker’s legal residency status to their employer. This system has been frequently condemned by human rights advocates, drawing parallels to modern-day slavery, given that it often prevents workers from leaving abusive employment situations without their employer’s consent.
Moreover, the Ethiopian government’s promotions have been criticized for spreading misleading information. For instance, while the official posts promise lofty salaries in Saudi Arabia, the actual earnings of domestic workers are significantly lower than the figures advertised.
Adding to the complexity of the situation is the involvement of Meta, Facebook’s parent company. The company has previously been criticized for its handling of human trafficking issues. In response, Meta stated its commitment to curbing human trafficking on its platforms and its ongoing review of certain recruitment posts. Intriguingly, there is a connection between Meta and the Ethiopian government; they entered into an agreement last year, ostensibly to enhance digital skills for local businesses. This collaboration has raised eyebrows, given the timing and the shared interest in the domestic labor campaign on Facebook.
Ultimately, the Ethiopian government’s drive to recruit women for work in Saudi Arabia, especially without fully disclosing the challenges and risks of the “kafala” system, has attracted international attention and concern. As rights groups highlight the potential for exploitation, the situation calls for a deeper examination of the ethical implications and the responsibilities of both governments and tech companies.