Amazon says repays $1.9m to workers in Saudi over unlawful fees

DUBAI – Online retailer Amazon said Friday it had paid $1.9 million to more than 700 contracted workers in Saudi Arabia as reimbursements for unlawful recruitment fees, among other alleged violations.

In October, Amnesty International accused Amazon of a range of abuses against workers in the oil-rich Gulf kingdom, prompting the US-based multinational to launch an investigation.

“We found instances where contracted workers were required to pay fees, including recruitment fees and other costs” by Saudi recruitment agents and labour supply companies, Amazon said in a statement posted on its website.

The investigation revealed other violations of its company policies including “substandard living accommodations, contract and wage irregularities, and delays in the resolution of worker complaints,” it said.

As a result, “Amazon paid $1.9 million in reimbursements to over 700 contracted workers”, the statement added.

The Amnesty report drew on the accounts of 22 men from Nepal who worked in warehouses in Riyadh or the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah going back to 2021, according to the London-based human rights organisation.

It found that migrant workers employed in Amazon warehouses in Saudi Arabia suffered “appalling” living conditions, on-the-job safety risks and wage theft.

Amnesty 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.

Labour supply companies have also threatened to impose steep fines for workers who want to cut short their contracts, effectively stranding them in the Gulf kingdom, the human rights group said.

Responding to the Amazon reimbursements, Steve Cockburn, Amnesty’s head of economic and social justice, called the move a “vital step” but said more needed to be done.

“Remedy should also be extended to hundreds of other workers contracted by Amazon who have already left the company or country,” he said in a statement.

They “are likely to have faced similar abuses including deception, wage theft, and hefty recruitment fees. They too deserve justice and compensation”. – AFP / pic BLOOMBERG