Sunday, August 31, 2008

Bangladeshi Workers in Kuwait

The US based National Labor Committee has recently published an investigative report on the plight of the Bangladeshi laborers in Kuwait. These workers were trafficked to Kuwait and forced to a sub-human living standard. The report says,
Hundreds of thousands of foreign guest workers—among them 240,000 Bangladeshis—have been trafficked to Kuwait, where they are immediately stripped of their passports. Many work seven days a week for wages of just 14 to 36 cents an hour, which means they are being cheated of up to 84 percent of the 90-cent-an-hour wage they were guaranteed when they purchased their three-year contracts to work in Kuwait. Workers who ask for their proper wages are beaten and threatened with arrest and forcible deportation. The workers are housed in squalid, overcrowded dorms with eight workers sharing each small 10-by-10-foot room, sleeping on narrow, double-level metal bunk beds”.
Kuwaiti companies have cheated these poor laborers and denied them of basic human rights. Kuwaiti Government kept their blind eyes and neglected to address these inhuman conditions of these poor workers. But is Kuwait a poor country? No, not at all. The NCL report adds, “Kuwait is not poor. Quite the opposite: It is the world’s seventh largest oil exporter. Kuwait’s GDP is expected to grow 6.8 percent this year to $172.4 billion. Kuwait’s trade surplus is running at $84 billion this year. Government revenues for the current fiscal year (April 1, 2008 through March 31, 2009) are also projected to grow by 40 percent, to reach approximately $129 billion. Even after all conceivable expenses, the Kuwait government should end the year with a fiscal surplus of $66.21 billion.

Kuwait does not need to exploit desperately poor foreign guest workers. They have the money to treat all workers in Kuwait with a modicum of dignity.

Ninety percent of Kuwait’s private sector workers are non-Kuwaiti. Sixty-three percent—or 2.3 million people out of a total population of 3.4 million—are expatriates. Hundreds of thousands of foreign guest workers have been trafficked to Kuwait from Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Sudan, Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines.

In 2007, Ambassador Mark Lagon and the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons demoted Kuwait to “Tier 3”—the lowest level, for being among those countries doing the least to prevent the trafficking of human beings.

The government of Kuwait however, does take care of its own people. When inflation skyrocketed in 2008—(it’s expected to reach 13.5 percent by year’s end)—the government moved quickly. In June 2008, any Kuwaiti public sector employee who was earning $45,000 a year or less, received a $188 a month wage increase. For those who had been earning $45,000 a year, this meant receiving a $2,257 increase, bringing their new annual wage to $47,397. The government was well aware that Kuwaitis earning just $45,000 were struggling in the face of inflation, especially given the soaring food costs.

However, when it came to the foreign guest workers in Kuwait, who were earning an average of just $903 a year and who were surely suffering due to the soaring cost of food, there was no similar concern by the government, despite the fact that the guest workers were earning less than two percent of what “low income” Kuwaitis were earning. The compounded inflation rate between 2006 and the end of 2008 is expected to reach 23.3 percent, and is causing the guest workers tremendous hardship”.

The Honorable Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State
Department of State
2201 C St., NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Rice:

I urge you to call upon the Government of Kuwait to end the trafficking of hundreds of thousands of foreign guest workers to Kuwait, where they are stripped of their passports, forced to work long hours, often seven days a week, while being cheated of half their wages. The workers are housed in squalid dorms. Some of these victims of human trafficking are actually working on a U.S. military base in Kuwait.

As you are well aware, Operation Desert Storm to liberate Kuwait cost the lives of 294 U.S. troops, with another 458 wounded. Moreover, 183,000 veterans of the Gulf War are now permanently disabled! This was a very heavy price to pay. The U.S. also has a defense pact with Kuwait to guarantee the security of the Kuwaiti people and government. This gives the Government of United States a very powerful voice, which the Kuwaiti Government must take seriously. I urge you again to call upon the Government of Kuwait to end the heinous practice of human trafficking, to assure that all guest worker passports are returned to them and to finally guarantee that the legal rights of these hundreds of thousands of guest workers be respected.
These workers, including those working on U.S. military bases, should also be made whole again and paid the back wages of which they were cheated.

Thank you for your concern and efforts to end human trafficking.


Read the in-depth report here: Guest Workers Trafficked to Kuwait

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