Friday, July 27, 2007

Slave Labour at the US Embassy in Iraq

Via the Center for American Progress:

In building this lavish symbol of occupation, the United States subsidized the company First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting (FK), a foreign contractor with egregious labor abuses. In a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee yesterday, several former managers and employees of FK reported on the conditions at the embassy, which ranged from "deplorable" living conditions to "kidnapping" of employees. Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) responded, "If what you are telling us is right, something appears to be seriously wrong with the management and oversight of this project."

SLAVE LABOR: Yesterday's hearing confirmed the serious abuses that have been reported for nearly two years. Because of the U.S. refusal to employ Iraqis inside the Green Zone, "most of the laborers were from such countries as India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Sierra Leone, the committee was told." FK lied to the workers, as "all of our tickets said we were going to Dubai," testified an embassy technician, "adding that an FK manager instructed him not to tell any of the Filipinos that they were going to Baghdad." Rory Mayberry, a former subcontract employee of the FK, told the Committee yesterday: "Let me spell it out clearly: I believe these men were kidnapped by First Kuwaiti to work at the U.S. Embassy." One worker signed up be a "telephone repair man," and when workers discovered they were headed to Baghdad en route, an FK manager waved an MP5 gun in the air to "settle down" the employees. In Baghdad, workers toiled for 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and for as little as $10 a day, according to John Owens, former FK manager. If a construction worker needed new shoes or gloves, he was told "No, do with what you have" by FK managers, Owens testified. "When drinking water was scarce in the blistering heat, coolers were filled on the banks of the Tigris, a river rife with waterborne disease, sewage and sometimes floating bodies."

(See their site for embedded links and more details about the controversial embassy.)

Here's more testimony about the abuse meted out by First Kuwaiti personnel against the labourers:

Transcripts of the testimony are available on the House Oversight and Government Reform committee's site.

These appalling conditions are not new, as CorpWatch reported on them back in 2005 and 2006. Yet obviously nothing has been done to address the abuses since they first came to light.

This was the State department's response standard denial on Thursday:

Howard J. Krongard, the State Department inspector general, strongly disputed the allegations in a subsequent session of the hearing. He testified that a "limited review" he conducted and inquiries by the inspector general of the U.S.-led military force in Iraq did not substantiate the abuse claims.

"Nothing came to our attention that caused us to believe that trafficking-in-persons violations" or other serious abuses "occurred at the construction workers' camp at the new embassy compound," Krongard said.

His "limited review" probably consisted of a quick phone call to First Kuwaiti. And we already know that the US military denies everything unseemly.

Colonialism - alive and well and on the march in Iraq.

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