Gulf’s Slave Labor Myth: Comparing the Arab and European Economies

by Aimen Dean

It is easy for Western self righteous keyboard warriors to paint the GCC Gulf countries as the evil capitalist labour exploiters who only pay “slave wages”.

In this article, I’m going to address one of the grievances some self righteous Westerners always voice against Arab GCC countries regarding so called “Slave Labor” from poorer countries. I will highlight the contrast in facts and numbers between the GCC and major EU economies.

First, by no means I’m saying the working conditions of workers from poorer countries in the GCC were ideal, far from it, but recent years has shown willingness of GCC authorities to improve working conditions, pay, hours and regulations.

Second, the only credible and quantifiable methodology to determine if the workers from poorer countries working in the GCC are slaving away for little to no pay is by looking at the “remittances figures” from the GCC to those countries where the workers come from.

In the decade between 2009 and 2019 more than $1.1 Trillion USD of remittences flowed from the workers in the six GCC countries namely Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait to less welloff countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Srilanka, Philippines, Egypt, Yemen, etc. On average the GCC remittences annual outflow is $110 billion USD.

The combined GDP of the six GCC countries is $1.7 Trillion USD, the combined GCC population is 53 million. This means that 6.5% of the GCC’s GDP is annually being transferred to less welloff countries through the guest labour programs thanks to wage remittances.

Now let’s examine the largest six European economies namely Germany, United Kingdom, France, Spain, Netherlands. Combined GDP $14 Trillion USD, combined population 345 million, combined annual remittences to less well off countries is also $110 billion USD (0.08% of GDP).

The GCC’s oil wealth, and the GCC’s foreign labour programs (despite all of their faults and shortcomings) based on the numbers above, clearly show how the GCC contributed to one of the largest redistribution of wealth among nations in modern times.

It is easy for Western self righteous keyboard warriors to paint the GCC countries as the evil capitalist labour exploiters who only pay “slave wages”. But $110 billion USD of annual remittance, equivalent to 6.5% of the GCC entire GDP, is no slave wage.

These labour programs in the GCC helped build entire villages, towns, schools and clinics in many less well off countries and contributed to the schooling tuition of tens of millions of young boys and girls to become productive members of their societies.

Many of the expat workers in the GCC returned home to their countries and brought with them wealth of experience and skills that were vital for the revival of their own countries’ economies.

The massive annual remittences from the GCC countries were a lifeline to millions of families in the societies where those workers came from. Foreign labour helped build the GCC, the remittances from the GCC helped build the economies of those workers’ countries.

Article compiled from author’s Tweet thread.

Aimen Dean is the Author of Nine Lives, My time as MI6 spy inside Al-Qaeda. He is political analyst, writer and a podcaster. He tweets under @AimenDean.