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23 Feb 2024

Saudi Arabia: Amazon pays USD 1.9m to subcontracted migrant workers who were subject to abusive working conditions, following Amnesty Intl. investigation; incl. co comments

Amazon’s reimbursement of unlawful recruitment fees is a vital step towards providing remedy for hundreds of migrant workers who suffered a range of severe labour abuses while contracted to the company in Saudi Arabia...With better due diligence, and by responding effectively to complaints from workers, Amazon could have prevented these abuses occurring in the first place. Remedy should be extended to hundreds of other workers contracted by Amazon who have already left the company or country, yet are likely to have faced similar abuses including deception, wage theft, and hefty recruitment fees.
Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Head of Economic and Social Justice

In February 2024, Amazon responded to allegations of serious and repeat labour violations for migrant workers subcontracted to work in the company's warehouses in Saudi Arabia. The company announced it has paid USD 1.9 million in reimbursements to over 700 workers who had paid recruitment fees and related costs to work in its Saudi Arabian distribution centres. In its announcement, the company emphasised its commitment to "fundamental human rights" and the "dignity of people connected" to its business "around the world".

The reimbursements followed allegations of abusive working conditions dating back years following an Amnesty International investigation in October 2023. The investigation found twenty-two workers with third-party labour subcontractors, Al-Mutairi Support Services Co. and Basmah Al-Musanada Co. for Technical Support Services, told investigators they were deceived into thinking they would be directly employed by Amazon, finding out only hours before flying or after arriving their employers were Al-Mutairi or Basmah.

Workers were housed in inhumane, unsanitary and overcrowded accommodation, with subcontractors withholding partial salaries or food allowances, and were underpaid overtime. In warehouses, workers were surveilled, subject to excessive performance targets, not given adequate rest time and denied sick pay. With only one exception, interviewees were charged recruitment fees on average of USD1,500, and some took out high-interest loans. Amnesty International said it was highly likely abuses amounted to human trafficking.

Most workers had signed two-year contracts but stopped working at Amazon facilities after less than a year, when the companies allegedly “took advantage” of the sponsorship system in Saudi Arabia (kafala) by preventing workers from moving jobs. While many wanted to return home, Al-Mutairi managers would not provide the flight tickets they were legally obliged to purchase.

I realized it was a different company on the day of the flight. When I received the documents, I saw on my passport it said, ‘Al Basmah Company’, but the agent said, ‘don’t worry, it’s a branch of Amazon’.
Subcontracted Nepali worker

Workers said they had raised direct complaints with Amazon managers in 2021, but some were subject to reprisals from the contractors including wage deductions and physical abuse. The abuse continued into 2023. Amnesty International alleged Amazon had contributed to the abuse by failing to adhere to its own policies or the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Correspondence from Amazon regarding the allegations can be read in full below, including Amazon's February announcement of reimbursement. Neither of the two labour supply companies responded to the allegations put to them in correspondence by Amnesty International.

Company Responses

Amazon.com View Response