Amazon will pay out $1.9 million to more than 700 migrant workers to settle claims of human rights abuses following exploitative labor contracts, as reported by CNBC. The impacted laborers were working at two of the company’s warehouses in Saudi Arabia.
Amazon acknowledged the issue in a blog post, saying it hired a third-party labor rights expert to investigate warehouse conditions. The organization found numerous violations of Amazon’s supply chain standards, including “substandard living accommodations, contract and wage irregularities and delays in the resolution of worker complaints.”
This follows an Amnesty International report from last October that detailed various alleged human rights abuses experience by those contracted to work in Amazon facilities in the region, and noted that many of the impacted laborers were “highly likely to be victims of human trafficking.” The report also suggested that Amazon was aware of the high risk for labor abuse when operating in Saudi Arabia but still “failed to take sufficient action to prevent such abuses.”
Simultaneous reports by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and the Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism offered detailed accounts of the conditions that these laborers allegedly suffered under, according to NBC News. The investigations found that workers had to pay illegal recruitment fees of up to $2,040 to get hired. This forced the migrant workers, many of whom were from Nepal, to take out loans with high interest rates.
Investigators also learned that these workers were living in squalid conditions, with one laborer saying he was living “in a crowded room with seven other men, jammed with bunk beds infested with bed bugs.” The water was said to be salty and undrinkable. Amnesty International echoed these findings, saying that the accommodations were “lacking even the most basic facilities.”
The combination of the exorbitant hiring fees, along with the associated loans, amounted to “human trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation as defined by international law and standards,” Amnesty alleged in its report.
Amazon has stated that it has “remediated the most serious concerns” involving the two Saudi warehouses, including an upgrade to housing accommodations. “Our goal is for all of our vendors to have management systems in place that ensure safe and healthy working conditions; this includes responsible recruitment practices,” the company wrote.
It’s worth noting that though that $1.9 million number seems high, it breaks down to around $2,700 per employee. Amazon made $576 billion in 2023, which comes out to more than $1.5 billion each day.
Amazon doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to labor. It’s regularly accused of breaking labor laws, particularly at its many product warehouses. The company is also rabidly anti-union, as many of these complaints involve attempts to stop workers from unionizing. Amazon faces multiple ongoing federal probes into its safety practices, and it has been fined by federal safety regulators for exposing warehouse workers to unnecessary risks.
However, the company remains defiant in its efforts to chip away at worker’s rights. Amazon recently filed a legal document that claims the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is unconstitutional, joining Elon Musk’s SpaceX and grocery giant Trader Joe’s. The NLRB is an independent arm of the federal government that enforces US labor law and has been operating since 1935.
This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/amazon-to-pay-19-million-to-settle-claims-of-human-rights-abuses-of-contract-workers-192237377.html?src=rss