Beauty brands ban Kuwaiti blogger over comments on Filipino maids

Beauty blogger Sondos al-Qattan doubles down on initial comments on Kuwaiti law granting Filipino workers more rights.

Sondos al-Qattan
Sondos al-Qattan was dropped by at least three global beauty brands after her disparaging comments on Kuwait's new law granting Filipino domestic workers rights [Screenshot/Instagram]

A Kuwaiti social media influencer and beauty blogger has doubled down on her comments about her country’s new laws aimed at improving conditions for Filipino domestic workers, despite a backlash on the internet.

Sondos al-Qattan, who has 2.3 million followers on Instagram, was heavily criticised on social media after she posted a video on July 10 in which she attacked measures introduced in May that grant Filipino domestic workers working in Kuwait one day off per week and prevent employers from keeping their passports.

“How can you have a servant at home who keeps their own passport with them? What’s worse is they have one day off every week,” al-Qattan said in the video, which has since been deleted.

On Tuesday, she posted on Instagram a “clarification” of her comments.

“I have not, on any circumstances in the present or the past, mistreated, degraded or in any way mistreated an employee of mine,” her post read.

She added that “irrelevant” of the employee/employer’s nationality, the “passport of any expat employee should be in the possession of the employer to protect the employer’s interest.”

She also thanked people who described her as “beautiful from the outside but not necessarily the same from the inside”.

“[I] assure you that only when you meet me up close and personal that you can make a personal judgement about me as a human being or person,” she said.

Yet the damage seems to have already made its mark, with several global beauty brands that al-Qattan is affiliated with severing ties with her, amid calls for a boycott of businesses linked to the influencer.

One of the brands, Max Factor, said it would suspend all work with al-Qattan, who is known for her make-up tutorials.

“Max Factor Arabia was shocked by the comments made … regarding the new labour law in Kuwait,” a spokesperson told Al Jazeera.

“Max Factor Arabia is taking this incident very seriously and have immediately suspended all collaborations with Sondos.”

On the same day, French perfume brand M. Micallef and London-based Chelsea Beautique have also fired the beauty and fashion influencer.

Al-Qattan told AFP by phone that the outcry was “unjustified” and did not require an apology.

“All I said was that the employer was entitled to keep the servant’s passport and that many Kuwaitis and Gulf nationals agree with me,” said al-Qattan.

“I have the right as a kafil (sponsor) to keep my employee’s passport, and I am responsible for paying a deposit of up to 1,500 dinars ($4957),” she said.

She insisted the practices are not an “insult to the employee and do not concern humanity or human rights because I did not deprive the employee of her salary or beat her”.

“Unapologetic and unconscionable”

Al-Qattan‘s new comments have added to the outrage on social media.

“To accept compliments on her looks but to show utter disregard for dignity & human rights is appalling,” one Twitter user said.

“There is not one ounce of regret in her speech. This sick woman is so unapologetic & unconscionable it should be illegal for her to promote anything.”

Others called out al-Qattan‘s “ignorance”.

Migrante International, an advocacy outfit for Filipinos working overseas, called on al-Qattan to apologise and likened her comments to those of “a slave owner”.

On May 11, Kuwait and Manila signed an agreement regulating domestic labour, following a diplomatic crisis that led to a ban on Filipino workers going to work in the Gulf country.

According to changes in the Kuwaiti law, a domestic worker will work 12 hours a day, with a one hour break. The worker must be provided with a personal mobile phone with internet connection and must have their passport with them at all times.

The law also requires one day off a week, and an annual holiday of 22 days paid for by the employer. The worker must also be given a ticket home after two years.

In February, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte imposed a partial ban on workers travelling to Kuwait after a Filipina maid was murdered and her body found in a freezer.

The crisis deepened after Kuwaiti authorities in April expelled Manila’s ambassador over video footage of Philippine embassy staff helping workers escape employers accused of mistreatment.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies