On every military base in Iraq and Afghanistan exists an economy sustained by immigrant workers. For transportation, construction, food services, security and more, the United States government relies on 174,000 laborers, 70,000 of them recruited from developing countries like Nepal, India, the Philippines and Uganda.
But not all of these workers voluntarily leave home to serve alongside the United States military. According to a report released in June by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Lowenstein Clinic at Yale Law School, many of these workers are tricked into working for American contractors and subcontractors who abuse them with “impunity” and subject them to grueling hours, meager wages, confinement and deadly working conditions.
In 2004, Buddhi Prasad Gurung and 12 other men from a village in Nepal were promised jobs in a luxury hotel in Jordan. Instead, they were sent to Iraq to work for a United States government subcontractor and, en route, were kidnapped by insurgents. Twelve men were executed “in the single largest set of executions of foreign captives by Iraqi insurgents.”
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Mr. Gurung survived the attack but said he had not been permitted to go home for 15 more months, according to a lawsuit against the subcontractor, Daoud & Partners, and the primary contractor, KBR.
In 2011, The New Yorker’s Sarah Stillman documented Fijian beauticians who suffered from the same deceptive practices. “For the first time in American history, private-contractor losses are now on a par with those of U.S. troops in both war zones, amounting to 53 percent of reported fatalities in the first six months of 2010,” she wrote.
The United States has a zero-tolerance policy toward human trafficking, but the report says existing measures — prevention, investigation and prosecution — are failing to curb the entrapment and abuse of foreign workers.
“Accountability exists in theory but not in practice: to date, the U.S. government has yet to fine or prosecute a single contractor for trafficking- or labor-related offenses,” the report states.