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10 Oct 2023

Pramod Acharya & Michael Hudson, The Guardian (US)

Revealed: Amazon linked to trafficking of workers in Saudi Arabia

See all tags Allegations


Momtaj Mansur is one of dozens of current and former workers who claim they were tricked and exploited by recruiting agencies in Nepal and labor supply firms in Saudi Arabia and then suffered under harsh conditions at Amazon’s warehouses.

Their accounts provide insight into how major American corporations profit, directly or indirectly, from employment practices that may amount to labor trafficking, which is defined as using force, coercion or fraud to induce someone to work or provide service.

Forty-eight of the 54 Nepali workers interviewed for this story say recruiters misled them about the terms of their employment, falsely promising they would work directly for Amazon. All 54 say they were required to pay recruiting fees – ranging from roughly $830 to $2,300 – that far exceed what’s allowed by Nepal’s government and run afoul of American and United Nations standards.

During their time in Saudi Arabia, these workers say, they were paid a fraction of what direct hires for Amazon’s Saudi warehouses earn, because labor supply firms were taking big cuts of what Amazon was paying for their labor.

Some workers say that after they’d been laid off from work at Amazon, their labor supply company sought to squeeze more money out of them, taking advantage of Saudi laws that give employers broad powers to control foreign workers’ freedom of movement. Mansur is one of 20 Nepalis interviewed for this story who say labor supply firms told workers they couldn’t go home to Nepal unless they paid exit fees that often equaled several months’ wages...

“Providing safe, healthy and fair working conditions is a requirement of doing business with Amazon in every country where we operate, and we are deeply concerned that some of our contract workers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia … were not treated with the standards we set forth, and the dignity and respect they deserve,” [an Amazon] statement said. “We appreciate their willingness to come forward and report their experience.”

Amazon said it will make sure that workers who paid recruiting fees get their money back...

Ella Knight, a London-based labor rights researcher for Amnesty, says the group informed Amazon in June about these issues and followed up with fuller details of its findings in August. Knight says it’s likely that both Amnesty’s investigation and the news outlets’ separate investigation contributed to Amazon’s decision to publicly pledge to put stronger controls in place and make sure workers are repaid for their recruiting fees...