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Saudi probes alleged abuses at Amazon warehouses



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Amazon logistics center in Florida. Credits: Amazon.

Riyadh - Saudi Arabia said on Thursday it was investigating reports of grim conditions for migrant workers at Amazon warehouses in the kingdom, denouncing all labour abuse and exploitation as "unacceptable".

The human resources and social development ministry said in a statement to AFP that the investigation began before Amnesty International this week reported that Nepalese Amazon workers in Saudi Arabia had suffered "appalling" living conditions, on-the-job safety risks and wage theft.

"Any form of labour abuse or exploitation is unacceptable and is comprehensively investigated by the relevant Saudi authorities," the statement said.

"The distressing reports outlined in this case are already the subject of an ongoing investigation."

The Amnesty report published on Tuesday drew from the accounts of 22 men who had worked in warehouses in Riyadh or the Red Sea city of Jeddah going back to 2021.

The London-based human rights group accused recruitment agents and two Saudi labour supply companies of deceiving migrant workers who thought they would be employed directly by Amazon and took out steep loans to pay recruitment fees.

Upon arrival in Saudi Arabia they encountered "dirty and overcrowded accommodation, sometimes infested with bed bugs" as well as "gruelling" working conditions marked by constant monitoring and inadequate rest, sometimes resulting in injury, Amnesty said.

The abuses were so severe they likely amounted to "human trafficking for the purposes of labour exploitation", Amnesty said.

The kingdom's "kafala" sponsorship system for foreign workers meant the labourers struggled to leave the warehouse jobs and risked possible arrest for "absconding", Amnesty said, adding that "a few contemplated suicide".

Saudi Arabia has a total population of 32.2 million, according to the latest census published in May, some 13.4 million of whom are foreigners, many from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Yemen and Egypt.

Foreign labourers often occupy manual and service jobs.

Thursday's statement said Saudi authorities had "taken robust measures to combat any form of human trafficking on an international level", including by ratifying the International Labour Organisation protocol against forced labour.

The kingdom "has also put in place comprehensive legislation and policies to prevent, investigate, and prosecute trafficking offences", the statement said, noting that recruitment agents and private employers "must adhere to clear and strongly enforced laws to ensure the fair treatment and welfare of all employees".

Amazon told AFP this week that the company was working with "our third-party vendor" to ensure that conditions improve and that workers are repaid "any unpaid wages or worker-paid recruitment fees" and provided with "clean and safe accommodations".(AFP)

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