'Mercy' ad campaign urges Saudis to treat foreign workforce humanely
TV and newspaper ads created by a Saudi firm depict abuse of Asian maids in an effort to stem the widespread practice.
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"While many domestic workers enjoy decent work conditions," the report said, others endure "slavery-like conditions" that included "nonpayment of salaries, forced confinement, food deprivation, excessive workload, and instances of severe psychological, physical, and sexual abuse."Skip to next paragraph
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The report caused a furor in Saudi Arabia, where newspaper columnists and government officials slammed it for being one-sided and exaggerated.
Many Saudis say that they, too, are victims, citing instances of maids running away to look for higher paying jobs after their employers had paid several hundred dollars to bring them to the kingdom.
"I'm sure there are abuses," Turki al-Sudairy, president of the government-appointed Human Rights Commission, said in a phone interview. "But a neutral person would think that all Saudis are doing this.... We want a fair judgment….They [HRW] never thought that there are cases where the girls are hurting their employers."
He attributed this to the fact that "it's not an accusatory campaign, it's an awareness campaign…. It calls for basic human rights and good treatment of human beings…. It's not controversial."
MBC and MBC-owned Al Arabiyya TV, which are popular throughout the Middle East, are both airing the three "Mercy" videos "free of charge as part of its commitment to society," Mr. Hayek says.
MBC is owned by an in-law of the late Saudi King Fahd.
Rotana, another popular satellite television network among Arab audiences, which is owned by Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, is also planning to air the "Mercy" videos, Khatib says.
Apart from the clip of the Arab businessman, two others show an Arab housewife shouting abuse at her maid, who appears to be Filipina. In one, she tells the maid to "get out of my sight" and in another, she yells at her "not to sleep until the house is spotless" as she apparently retires for the night.
The "Mercy" ads are not appearing on Saudi government-owned television stations, Khatib says.
One Saudi newspaper offered the print version of the campaign declined to take it, but several others are running it, he added.
He says he'd only seen one negative comment so far from one newspaper reader.
The $100,000 cost of the videos and print ads, which were all produced in Saudi Arabia, was borne by an individual who wanted to remain anonymous, Khatib says.
His firm has done other public service campaigns in the past, he adds, including ones against smoking and gossiping. Others have encouraged people to be good to their mothers, be devout Muslims, and demonstrate their patriotism by helping to improve Saudi society.