In a recent expose of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), Pramod Acharya and Michael Hudson write in The Guardian US, that among forty-eight of 54 Nepali workers who were interviewed in their story say that the recruiters misled them about the terms of their employment by falsely promising them that they would be directly working for Amazon. All the 54 Nepalis paid recruiting fees, ranging from US $ 830- $2300, which are far more than the amounts allowed by the Nepal Government and goes against the USA and UN standards. They were actually tricked by the recruitment companies in Nepal and the world’s largest trillion-dollar company Amazon. The company moved to Saudi Arabia in 2017 after buying the Middle Eastern retail giant Souq.com. Amazon then increased its labour force in Saudi Arabia by bringing in workers from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Nepal. The company now employs nearly 1500 permanent and seasonal workers in Saudi Arabia.
As the world advances and digital marketing progresses, so does exploitation. This occurs in different forms and in different ways. Global marketing and transfer of labour are the reality of today that cannot be stopped because human beings are always venturing out to foreign countries for better opportunities. It is also a fact that big companies operating in the global market are thriving due to the labour of people from countries such as Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia and others, who always see the pasture greener in countries like Saudia Arabia. Currently, one of the biggest digital markets is Amazon.com which, as of October 2023, has an estimated net worth of around 1 trillion US Dollars. In fact, it is one of the very few companies to cross a trillion-dollar mark.
However, in a recent expose published by The Guardian US in collaboration with ICIJ, NBC News and Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism, they clearly show that when they examined human trafficking and labour exploitation in Asia, the USA, Africa and the Middle East, they found that Nepalis and other foreign workers who are the actual hands and feet of the companies like the Amazon are subjected to human trafficking and labour exploitation. When I exposed my stories of human trafficking of Nepali workers by Nepali business owners in Finland and Luxembourg I was appalled by the inhuman behaviour of Nepali employers on their Nepali employees.
This story of exploitation by big companies like Amazon raises the question on the roles played by the judiciary system and the international human rights and justice organisations in championing the rights of the migrant workers. The labourers who were exploited have clearly mentioned to the reporters that the Amazon authorities were aware of the injustice that was going on in the Amazon set up in Saudi Arabia, so why was no action taken? Nepal’s biggest remittance earners are the Nepali citizens who migrate to other countries to earn for themselves, their families and the nation. Being one of the poorest nations, the Nepali households, mainly from rural areas, have family members who migrate to earn for their families.
In the 2010/2011 census it is mentioned that more than half of the Nepali households reported receiving money from family members working outside the country. In 2021, the overseas remittances accounted for nearly a quarter of Nepal’s gross domestic product (GDP). But the story exposed by Pramod Acharya and Michel Hudson on 10th October 2023 tells the story of a 23-year-old Nepali who went to Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, in 2021 to work for the dream company Amazon.com. He was forced to work long hours in an inhuman manner by his Amazion.com managers there. The article mentions that in May 2022 many Nepali workers were abruptly made redundant by the Amazon warehouse. They had no wages and very little food.
On top of this, they were harassed by the Saudi firm who got them in the country by asking them to pay US$ 1,300 as penalty for wanting to leave the country without completing the assignment. During their stay in Saudi Arabia these workers were paid a fraction of what they were promised. No one advocated on their behalf for their rightful salaries. This is an investigative report that highlights the dire state of human trafficking and modern-day slavery. That too associated with one of the largest companies owned by the third richest person on earth. However, it is a sad fact that even when facts and figures like these support actual stories neither the governments of countries like Nepal who supply workers in the global market nor the governments of countries like the USA who have created the demand have actually come to concrete solutions on how to end such heinous crimes. Exposes have been happening regularly in individual and collaborative investigative reporting however proper measures are often not taken.
Often, the people who migrate are blamed for getting in the trap with the hope of earning more. It is important to stop doing this, because in the Guardian US report a Nepali migrant has admitted to the fact that he was aware of the plights of migrant workers, therefore checked details before applying for the job and the international brand of Amazon.com made him confident that he was on the right track. Instead of blaming innocent, hardworking and often deprived and abused migrant workers it is important for global industries to sort out their operations. Government of Nepal must take this issue up with the US government and the government of Saudi Arabia. The goal should not be to stop aspirant workers from pursuing their dreams but from stopping abusive employers from taking advantage from them.
(Sharma is a senior journalist and women rights advocate firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter handle: @NamrataSharmaP)