Nepalis ‘deceived, cheated and exploited’ at Amazon warehouses in Saudi ArabiaAn Amnesty International report exposes the multinational’s failure to prevent contracted workers from being exposed to human rights abuses, despite receiving complaints.
Nepali migrants working in Amazon’s warehouses in Saudi Arabia were deceived, cheated of their earnings and exploited, a report published on Tuesday by the international human rights group Amnesty International said.
According to the report titled ‘Don’t worry, it’s a branch of Amazon: Exploitation of migrant workers contracted to Amazon in Saudi Arabia’, recruitment agents and labour supply companies deceived Nepali migrant workers, who were contracted to serve in Amazon’s warehouses in Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia, and Jeddah.
“Contract workers were cheated of their earnings, housed in appalling conditions and prevented from finding alternative employment or leaving the country,” said the report, which was prepared on the basis of information collected from 22 men from Nepal who had worked in Amazon’s warehouses between 2021 and 2023.
Those workers were employed by two third-party labour supply contractors—Abdullah Fahad Al-Mutairi Support Services Co (Al-Mutairi) and Basmah Al-Musanada Co for Technical Support Services (Basmah).
To secure work at Amazon’s facilities in Saudi Arabia, the interviewees, with one exception, paid recruitment agents in Nepal an average of $1,500. Some took high-interest loans to pay the fees. During the recruitment process, the agents, sometimes in collusion with the Saudi Arabian labour supply companies, deceived many of the workers into believing they would be employed directly by Amazon.
Some workers began to suspect that Amazon was not their direct employer when they received their contracts and documentation just hours before they were due to fly. But having already paid the recruitment fees, most felt they had no choice but to continue. Others realised it only after arriving in Saudi Arabia.
“I realised it was a different company on the day of the flight … On my passport, it said, ‘Al Basmah Co.’ but the agent said, ‘don’t worry, it’s a branch of Amazon’,” one interviewee was quoted as saying.
The workers were mostly housed, for months, in dirty and overcrowded accommodations, sometimes infested with bed bugs. They were made to work in Amazon warehouses, but the contractors often withheld part of their salaries and/or food allowances without explanation and underpaid them for overtime work.
In the warehouses, workers said they were repeatedly required to lift very heavy items, run to meet gruelling performance targets, were constantly monitored, and not allowed to rest adequately.
In some cases, this resulted in injuries and illnesses. One worker said he suffered a suspected broken arm and was signed off work for a month by a doctor, but because the supply company denied workers sick pay, he had to resume work within two weeks.
Most workers signed two-year contracts with the labour supply companies, but many spent less than 12 months at Amazon’s facilities before the work ended, which some likened to being “fired”.
The supply companies then moved these ‘jobless’ individuals to even worse accommodations and stopped paying salaries, and in some cases food allowances. Without any social protection or support from the Saudi state, some survived by eating bread and salt, and drinking salty water.
One worker said “the accommodation was extremely dirty. No air conditioning, no fans. The temperature was 50°C … There are so many workers … no beds, cooking gas or drinking water. There was no internet so we couldn’t contact our families.”
The report exposed how an American multinational technology company failed to prevent contracted workers in Saudi Arabia from being repeatedly exposed to human rights abuses, despite receiving complaints directly from workers about their treatment over a length of time.
In many cases, it is highly likely that the abuses suffered by workers amounted to human trafficking, given the deception that occurred during recruitment, and the exploitation endured once they were there, according to the report.
“The workers thought they were seizing a golden opportunity with Amazon but instead ended up suffering abuses which left many traumatised. We suspect hundreds more endured similar appalling treatment. Many of those we interviewed suffered abuses so severe that they are likely to amount to human trafficking for the purposes of labour exploitation,” Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Head of Economic and Social Justice, was quoted as saying in the report.
“Amazon could have prevented and ended this appalling suffering long ago but its processes failed to protect these contracted workers in Saudi Arabia from shocking abuses. Amazon should urgently compensate all those who have been harmed and ensure this never happens again.”
Cockburn said that the government of Saudi Arabia also bears a heavy responsibility. “It must urgently investigate these abuses and reform its labour system to guarantee workers their fundamental rights, including being able to freely change employers and leave the country without conditions,” he said.