Foreign Workers for US Contractors Subject to Human Rights Abuses

If you’ve ever been on a military base overseas, you’ve probably interacted with foreign contractors. They come from places like India and the Philippines, and they are contracted by companies to work on military bases. They do construction and custodial work. They serve you meals and they sew your uniforms. For all of these things and more 174,000 foreign laborers are outsourced for the United States government.

According to a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union and Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Law Clinic at Yale Law School, despite the fact that the U.S. has proclaimed a “zero-tolerance” policy against trafficking foreign laborers are subject to “illegal recruitment through deceptive hiring practices, trafficking, forced labor and other labor abuses in violation of U.S. and international anti-trafficking laws.”

The report documents the experiences of the “army behind the army;” the foreign contractors referred to as Third Country Nationals (TCN’s). These experiences are documented using media reports, interviews with individuals, and government documents.

Among findings in the report are abusive hiring practices. These practices include recruiting from vulnerable TCN populations Nepal, India, the Philippines, and Uganda and lying to recruits about pay, working conditions, working locations. These foreign workers are subjected “to twelve- and fourteen-hour workdays without overtime pay; seven-day work weeks with no vacation time for several years; salaries as low as $150 per month; squalid living conditions; inedible food; confinement; physical and verbal abuse.”

The US government theoretically has oversight and penalties for companies that engage in trafficking and abusive labor practices, but the report finds that the US rarely enforces these laws. According to the report, the “government has yet to fine or prosecute a single contractor for trafficking- or labor-related offenses. Despite having the authority to suspend and terminate contracts with both prime and subcontractors, government agencies have never exercised this authority”

The report documents many of the experiences of TCN’s. Among these experience include the 2004 case of 13 workers from Nepal who were contracted for work in a hotel in Jordan. Instead the subcontracting company shipped these workers to a military Iraq. During their transit in Iraq 12 of the 13 were kidnapped and beheaded by insurgents. Both the subcontractor, Daoud & Partners, and the primary contractor, Kellogg, Brown, and Root (KBR), refused to allow the lone survivor to return home.

Many more case studies form the basis of this report, as well as a look into the numbers. From average pay for TCN’s preforming different jobs, to the amount of hours of overtime they work. Living conditions and working conditions are also examined in detail. The report also looks at the shocking amount of human trafficking and gender based violence.

The report concludes that a “’zero-tolerance’ policy against trafficking” is simply not enough. “The U.S. must put that stated policy into action by fully investigating credible reports of trafficking and abuse of TCNs by U.S. Government contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, where appropriate, hold perpetrators accountable. Only then will ‘zero tolerance’ mean what it says.”