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Jordan's unfree workforce: state-sponsored bonded labour in the Arab region

Frantz, Elizabeth (2013) Jordan's unfree workforce: state-sponsored bonded labour in the Arab region. The Journal of Development Studies, 49 (8). pp. 1072-1087. ISSN 0022-0388

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Identification Number: 10.1080/00220388.2013.780042


This article contributes to understandings of contemporary forms of unfree labour by offering an ethnographic perspective on a region which so far has been overlooked in the scholarly literature on the subject – the Arab world. It describes the sponsorship system through which tens of millions of foreign workers are employed in Jordan, Lebanon and the Arabian Gulf states and argues that it constitutes a form of bonded labour. One of the main features of this form of unfree labour is the role played by states in facilitating and enforcing it. This example complicates the commonly held assumption that since slavery and bonded labour have been legally abolished in most countries, contemporary forms of unfree labour exist primarily in extra-legal zones outside the boundaries of government oversight. On the contrary, in the context described here the state is not merely turning a blind eye but actively enabling bonded labour. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in Jordan and Sri Lanka, the article focuses on the position of Sri Lankan women employed in domestic service to illuminate workers’ experiences of the sponsorship system and the institutional apparatuses that buttress it.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2013 Taylor & Francis
Divisions: Anthropology
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
J Political Science > JC Political theory
JEL classification: J - Labor and Demographic Economics > J2 - Time Allocation, Work Behavior, and Employment Determination and Creation; Human Capital; Retirement > J23 - Employment Determination; Job Creation; Demand for Labor; Self-Employment
Date Deposited: 30 Aug 2013 14:44
Last Modified: 16 May 2024 01:41

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