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Human rights violations ignored as Saudi Arabia hosts global summit on economic stability

November 19, 2020 GMT

New York, NY ( TS Newswire ) -- 20 Nov 2020

With only a few days left in the annual Group of 20 summithosted this year in Riyadh, Saudi ArabiaImpACT urges participants to call out the economic and human rights violations taking place in the kingdom.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia assumed the G20 presidency in December, paving the way for the Leaders Summit to be held in Riyadh this month. The kingdom has said it will focus on the mission of Realizing Opportunities of the 21st Century for All, including three specific goals:

Empowering people by creating the conditions in which everyoneespecially women and youthcan thrive.


Safeguarding the planet by encouraging collective efforts to protect the environment.

Shaping new frontiers by adopting strategies that ensure the benefits of innovation and technological advancement are shared equally.

It seems hypocritical, however, to allow a meeting focused on economic equity to be hosted by a government that refuses to protect migrant workers, buys excessive arms, is waging an unjust proxy war in Yemen and allows Saudi businesses to violate standards for ethical operations.

In hosting the summit, Saudi Arabia is receiving international recognition, in turn diverting the worlds attention from the countrys violations of human rights.The kingdom must be held accountable, not rewarded.

Saudi Arabia has done very little to promote global economic stability; instead, it contributes to conflict and insecurity.One example is its destruction of Yemen in the course of its drive to achieve supremacy over its regional competitor, Iran.

The case for regulating arms sales

The growth in Saudi Arabias arms trade should be a priority topic of discussion amongst the G20. Saudi Arabia is the worlds largest importer of arms, buying $110 billion in arms from the United States alone in 2017. The government has announced it plans to buy an additional $350 billion in arms over the next 10 years. In the four years from 2015 to 2019, 12 percent of global arms imports were purchased by Riyadha 130% increase. Such a dramatic expenditure on arms has allowed Saudi Arabia to wage war in Yemen for five years, resulting in the death of nearly a quarter of a million people due to violence or lack of food, health care and infrastructure. Of the dead, 60% are children under the age of five.

This Saudi-led coalition financing and manning the war has violated numerous internationally recognised human rights laws with its indiscriminate airstrikes that have displaced thousands of residents. As a result, Yemen now is in the third stage of the Integrated Phase Classification (IPC)crisis-level famine.


The armed conflict in Yemen has been recognised by the United Nations as the worlds largest humanitarian catastrophe, yet there is a near-total lack of accountability.Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman is scheduled to speak to participants about how to achieve global economic prosperity; yet at the same time, his governments actions are placing 14 million lives at risk.In addition, the countrys GDP shrank 28% in 2015 and another 5.9% in 2017. The U.N. Development Program (UNDP) projects that if the conflict continues until 2022, Yemens economic output will fall by $181 billion. (By 2030, that number would soar to $657 billion.)

Workers in search of financial stability

Migrant workers put their lives at risk and endure brutal hardships, often finding themselves trapped after being lured by false promises of better wages and other conditions. Saudi Arabia is home to the largest number of migrant workers (approximately 10 million) among members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). This lack of protection for migrant workers is another reason why Saudi Arabia does not deserve to host international summits.

Migrant workers in Saudi Arabia are frequently punished with low pay or withheld wages, dangerous working conditions, sexual harassment and abuse, and forced labour.Until recently, these workers were governed totally by the kafala sponsorship system, which binds workers rights to stay in the country to their employer. This year, however, some elements of the discriminatory practice have been reformed. For example, foreign workers now have the right to change sponsors by moving from one employer to another. Migrant workers also now are allowed to obtain an exit visa without the consent of their employer, allowing them to leave and enter the country at their discretion.

However, these measures are far from enough and the G20 discussions are silent on the role of the international committee.

Vision 2030

To attract foreign investment and trade, Mohammad Bin Salman has invested millions into cultural and sports events tied to his governments Vision 2030a strategy designed in part to reduce the countrys economic reliance on oil. Among its actions is a minor loosening of social restrictions; however, many contradictions continue to exist and have even been exacerbated. For example, females who protested the ban on women drivers were successful, but most then were imprisoned.

It is clear, however, that Bin Salmans motivation is driven by his desire to reform the image of the ultraconservative kingdomand nothing else beyond that.

Vison 2030 revolves around three pillars: a vibrant society, a thriving economy and an ambitious nation. None of these three pillars, however, reflects the current economic reality in Saudi Arabia.

In concert with this vision, the General Entertainment Authority was created in 2016, with plans to invest $64 billion on entertainment, sports, art, music and film. Performers such as Mariah Carey, 50 Cent and Jennifer Lopez came to perform, whilst mass arbitrary arrests, the war in Yemen, death sentences and abuse of migrant workers took place at the same time.

Business contribution

Many businesses, such as the entertainment companies, are using the new vision to fuel dramatic growth. The kingdoms image is conveniently laundered by celebrities and visiting dignitaries, such as those attending the G20 summit. This distortion of the countrys image violates the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which calls on businesses to conduct due diligence to identify and mitigate human rights risks related to their activities.

An example of reputation laundering is Saudi Entertainment Ventures (SEVEN), which states that it exists to enhance the quality of life for citizens and visitors to the kingdom, spreading joy and driving progress throughout the nation.

Sportswashing, the sponsorship of international sporting events, is another example of image distortion. Major sporting events include the Italian Super Cup, Formula E championship, Saudi International Golf Tournament and (beginning in 2023) Formula 1 car racing.

The Saudi regime has incentivized companies around the world to build a reformist image for Bin Salman in advance of the G20 summit. An example is the popular French newspaper, Le Figaro, which is owned by Dassault Aviationa maker of military aircraft, such as the Rafale jet fighter used in Yemen airstrikes. The newspaper has prominently promoted Bin Salmans reforms, focusing on the increase in Saudi women who do not wear hijabs in public.


The G20 summit is a high-profile platform for promoting global economic regulation and stability. It should thus only be held in countries whose governments uphold basic human rights policies, such as freedom of speech, right to wages and respectable working conditions for migrant workers. Meanwhile, businesses that participate in or promote the forum actively cover up Saudi Arabias disastrous track record.

Businesses must practice human rights due diligence.Bin Salmans vision for the future is marred by underlying human rights abuses and repressive policies that must be exposed and addressed.