Amazon pays $1.9m to workers in Saudi Arabia for unlawful recruitment fees, abuses

Amazon has acknowledged and compensated more than 700 contracted workers in Saudi Arabia, paying a total of $1.9 million as reimbursements for unlawful recruitment fees and various alleged violations. This move comes in response to allegations made by Amnesty International in October, accusing the online retail giant of multiple abuses against workers in the oil-rich Gulf kingdom.

Amazon’s internal investigation, triggered by the allegations, uncovered instances where contracted workers were obligated to pay fees, including recruitment charges and additional costs imposed by Saudi recruitment agents and labor supply companies, as revealed in a statement posted on Amazon’s official website.

The probe also exposed other violations of the company’s policies, such as substandard living accommodations, irregularities in contracts and wages, and delays in addressing worker complaints. As a direct consequence of these findings, Amazon took the initiative to reimburse $1.9 million to over 700 contracted workers.

Amnesty International’s report drew on the experiences of 22 Nepalese men who had worked in Amazon warehouses in Riyadh and Jeddah since 2021. The report highlighted appalling living conditions, on-the-job safety risks, and instances of wage theft experienced by migrant workers in these facilities.

The allegations included claims of deception by recruitment agents and two Saudi labor supply companies, misleading migrant workers into thinking they would be directly employed by Amazon. Many of these workers incurred significant debts by taking out loans to pay exorbitant recruitment fees.

The report also exposed a disturbing practice by labor supply companies, threatening severe fines for workers attempting to terminate their contracts prematurely, effectively trapping them in the Gulf kingdom against their will.

In response to Amazon’s reimbursements, Steve Cockburn, Amnesty’s head of economic and social justice, acknowledged it as a “vital step” but emphasized that more actions were necessary. He urged extending remedies to hundreds of other workers who have already left the company or the country, asserting that they are likely to have faced similar abuses, including deception, wage theft, and hefty recruitment fees. Cockburn stressed that justice and compensation should be provided to all affected workers, not just those currently under contract.

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