Amazon has long been regarded as a trailblazer in terms of its innovative approach to conducting business, but it has recently come under fire from human rights advocacy organizations after a report revealed shocking treatment of its workers in Saudi Arabia.
In early June, Human Rights Watch released a report that detailed the plight of individuals working for Amazon in Saudi Arabia. The report, based on 89 interviews with Amazon workers in the Kingdom, uncovered a pattern of exploitation at the hands of labor supply and recruiting firms.
Many workers described how their labor supply and recruiting firms “retain their passports and don’t provide legal work contracts or meet minimum wage requirements.” They also complained of excessively long working hours, with no overtime or rest days, as well as hazardous working conditions that have led to worker safety incidents.
Amazon workers in Saudi Arabia have been brave in the face of extreme exploitation. A group of them released a video statement saying they were “treated inhumanely” and “think that these [labor supply and recruiting] companies want to kill us or send us home.”
Beyond the interviews with workers, Human Rights Watch also researched Amazon’s SEJAL program. This program, first announced in 2018, was purportedly designed to “enhance pay and other benefits” for workers in the Kingdom. Upon further investigation, the report found that the program is “failing to meet its goals” due to flawed implementation.
In particular, the report noted that employers are “defying” SEJAL’s rules, “mandating workers to work more than 12 hours a day, denying them weekly rest days and holiday leave, and withholding their wages.”
In response to the report, Amazon released a statement acknowledging that it “takes strong steps” to ensure its workers are “treated with dignity and respect” but recognized that it “must do more.”
The statement added that the company is “working to fundamentally change the economic model for our partners, so that all parties involved abide by the same standards of labor and working conditions.”
Amazon’s workers in Saudi Arabia are now calling for increased accountability on the part of the labor supply and recruitment firms in the Kingdom, as well as the implementation of stronger oversight on the part of Amazon to ensure that the company’s policies are upheld.
As a company with exemplary standards of business practice, Amazon has a responsibility to guarantee basic rights and labor protections to all its workers, regardless of their nationality or location. Amazon must take action to ensure that the rights of its workers, both in Saudi Arabia and worldwide, are respected and upheld.