By Arab News
The US Embassy in Riyadh and the Consulate General in Dhahran have been accused by the US State Department of using contract labor employed by companies that exploit and put them at risk.
Workers at the embassy, including gardeners, maids, cooks and local guards, were found to be at risk of human trafficking and living in “overcrowded, unsafe and unsanitary conditions,” according to a report published on Monday by the department.
Inspectors found that cleaners at the embassy were being paid as little as SR17 ($4.44) a day and gardeners as little as SR12.50 ($3.33). Gardeners at the embassy had been housed in unsafe and “unacceptable” conditions, said the report.
Their passports had also been allegedly confiscated by the contractors.
The embassy had promised to comment on the report, but it did not get back to Arab News on Tuesday.
The report claimed that contractors who supply staff to the embassy and consulate were engaged in practices that indicated an increased risk of trafficking among workers, although there was no evidence to suggest companies were actually engaged in the practice.
It also said that there were a number of payment issues that contractors needed to resolve, including withheld wages, confusing calculations of earnings and wage differentials based on nationality, which strongly indicated that the workers were being exploited. Some workers had to pay recruitment fees to get their jobs.
The report made several recommendations, which included urging the US Embassy in Riyadh to tell its gardening contractor to ensure workers are housed in more acceptable accommodation. It also recommended that contractors should be forced to provide details of the housing provided to foreign workers and ensure they are inspected regularly by the contracting officer’s representative.
Commenting on the report, Nisha Varia, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, said: “Some of their findings were very disturbing, and whether the cases they documented amounted to a severe form of human trafficking or not, there were definitely abuses taking place.”
As well as the embassy in Riyadh, inspectors from the State Department’s own Office of the Inspectorate General (OIG) also looked into employment at the American embassies in Oman, Kuwait and the UAE. The research at the embassies was carried out between January and March 2010.
Preferring anonymity, a ministry official in the UAE said that not only the US embassy but many other embassies and organizations in the country recruit cleaners and similar jobs through agencies but he was unaware about such “exploiting incidents” in the UAE.
He saw the release of this report at this time as “mysterious.” He claimed that the State Department had been aware about contract laborers’ conditions for a long time. Why were they releasing it just now, he asked.
Meanwhile, S. Zaman, a Dubai-based businessman, said that many companies in the UAE recruit contract laborers through agencies. It was common practice for staff to have to pay a recruitment fee to get their jobs.
“ I don’t think, anybody is confiscating the passports, but many a company keeps passports because of security reasons. However, the employer releases the passport when the employee demands it”, he added.