Indian Contract Workers in Iraq Complain of Exploitation
Published: May 7, 2004
By DAVID ROHDE###
ELICHAKKALA, India (Summary of New York Times Article) — Four men from India were hired by Gulf Catering Company, a Saudi firm hired by Halliburton subsidiary KBR to provide food services at six American bases in Iraq. The men said the working conditions were horrible. An Indian newspaper called the American military bases "U.S. Slave Camps" for civilian workers. The men worked as butchers for $385 a month and joined three million other Indians working in the Persian Gulf region. The men say their supervisor confiscated their passports in Kuwait and told them they were obligated to work in Iraq for six months without being allowed to leave. The men worked with 200 other workers from India, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. They first started cleaning latrines and then washed dishes. "We were in hell," said one of the men, who returned to India with his brother. Gulf Catering Company confirmed it employed the four men, but denied the men were exploited, underpaid or prevented from leaving Iraq. They said the men's passports were kept for "safekeeping" and that they were allowed to leave at any time. KBR spokeswoman Wendy Hall said Gulf Catering is a "second tier" subcontractor, one hired by another KBR subcontractor to work in Iraq. She was not aware of the allegations of worker mistreatment, but said the company would aggressively investigate it. It is the policy of KBR to allow employees to quit and leave the middle east at their choosing. Combined with recent widely covered news of U.S. abuse of prisoners in Iraq, the mistreatment of workers from India further reduced chances of the Indian government sending troops to the region to help America. On April 15, the Indian government banned Indian workers from going to Iraq. According to Indian officials, millions of Indians are desperate for the wages offered by contractors in Iraq.