Kuwaiti social media personality loses sponsors after rant about maids

Posted at 11:54 AM, Jul 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-27 13:54:34-04

Kuwaiti social media personality Sondos Alqattan has been dropped by several global cosmetics brands after she uploaded a video slamming new labor laws in the country entitling Filipino domestic workers to a weekly day off.

Recent changes to Kuwaiti regulations for Filipino domestic workers also require that employees be allowed to keep their passports with them. Before the reforms, employers could confiscate the passports of domestic help.

Alqattan, a makeup artist, blasted the new regulations as “pathetic” in a viral video last week.

“For her to take a day off every week, that’s four days a month. Those are the days that she’ll be out. And we don’t know what she’ll be doing on those days, with her passport on her,” said Alqattan, who has 2.3 million Instagram followers.

Brands distance themselves

On Friday, Japanese cosmetics giant Shiseido told CNN that it did not support Alqattan’s recent statements.

“In pursuit of its mission to ‘inspire a life of beauty and culture,’ Shiseido aims to be an important and trusted corporate entity, accepted by society and consumers worldwide. Shiseido understands that it must respect the human rights of all persons as a prerequisite to conduct business activities for its sustainable growth together with the global society,” the company said.

“Shiseido is not currently working with Sondos. We have no plans to work with her again in the future,” it added.

Mac Cosmetics told CNN in a statement Friday that it is currently in partnership with Alqattan and “will no longer be working with her on any brand activities.”

Max Factor Arabia said it was “shocked” by Alqattan’s comments and emphasized that her remarks did not reflect the values or principles of the brand.

“Max Factor Arabia is taking this incident very seriously and have immediately suspended all collaborations with Sondos,” the company said in a statement Wednesday.

Global haircare brand Phyto described the “cruel comments” as troubling in a statement posted to its Instagram account.

“Soon after finding out about her dreadful actions, we contacted our local distributor in Kuwait and requested that any partnerships with Ms. Alqattan were put to an end effective immediately. We take our brand’s values very seriously and will not support such behavior or have it associated with our products,” the statement said.

US cosmetics company Anastasia Beverly Hills (ABH) responded to a customer questioning the brand’s affiliation with Alqattan on Facebook, writing: “Sondos is not affiliated, employed by, or collaborating with ABH. As a result of her statements, ABH has unfollowed Sondos and removed her from our PR list.”

Meanwhile Chelsea Beautique, a London-based makeup company, told a patron on Twitter that the company had removed any videos associated with the Instagram personality.

“We believe that decent working conditions should be provided to everyone and such behavior does not represent our brand’s core beliefs,” it wrote.

Alqattan yet to apologize

Following the online backlash, Alqattan posted a lengthy statement on Instagram again defending the rights of Kuwaiti employers to retain the passports of domestic employees.

“Due to the spreading rumors it was only necessary to make a responsive clarification. The passport of any expat employee should be in the possession of the employer to protect the employer’s interest. Irrelevant of the employee/employer nationality,” she wrote.

Alqattan’s inflammatory remarks caused an immediate outcry from social media users, many of whom called for others to join them in boycotting any brands known to have collaborative partnerships with the social media influencer.

Social media user Jaja Caringal was harshly critical of Alqattan. “Her expensive stuff and pretty face cannot mask her rotten attitude. Shame on that lady. #sondosalqattan #moderndayslavery,” Caringal wrote. Caringal later tweeted that after she sent Alqattan a private message, the Instagram star blocked her on the platform.

Alqattan did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.

What’s behind Kuwaiti changes?

The reforms to Kuwaiti regulations for Filipino domestic workers were sparked by a diplomatic spat between the Philippines and the Gulf country. The murder of a Filipina maid earlier this year prompted Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte to ban Filipino workers from traveling to Kuwait.

In January, the body of Filipina Joanna Demafelis, 29, was discovered stuffed in the refrigerator of her Lebanese employer and his wife. Kuwaiti authorities have since sentenced the couple to death.

“I will sell my soul to the devil to look for money so that you can come home and live comfortably here,” Duterte said after news broke of Demafelis’ death. He said he was ready to take “drastic steps” to protect Filipinos working abroad.

Of more than 250,000 Filipinos in Kuwait, at least 60% are domestic workers who live and work in the homes of their employers for more money than they can earn at home.

Kuwait has become a popular overseas destination for Filipino workers in recent years.

More than 55% of Philippines domestic workers live in the Middle East, where an infamous sponsorship system, known as Kefala, dictates their working conditions. Under Kefala, domestic workers cannot leave the country or change jobs without their employers’ consent.

Groups such as Human Rights Watch have argued that the system creates a breeding ground for harsh working conditions, and have documented numerous cases of abuse.