Workers hired by state department contractors at US embassies overseas are living in "overcrowded, unsafe and unsanitary conditions" and are at risk of human trafficking according to a new report released by the State Department's Inspector General.
The report, based on interviews with 75 workers in six State department facilities in Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, found that while there was no evidence of "severe human trafficking", State Department contractors regularly required workers to pay up to a year's worth of salary when they signed their employment contract. The workers are employed as janitors, gardeners or as the local guard force.
The report notes some employers regularly confiscated the workers' passports leaving them with few options to flee if the arrangement did not work out. One-third of the workers interviewed did not know why their passports were taken, but believed it was to prevent them from leaving.
The practice of confiscating passports, while widespread, is illegal in all four countries.
"Some of their findings were very disturbing, and whether the cases they documented amounted to a severe form of human trafficking or not, there were definitely abuses taking place," said Nisha Varia, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch.
The report notes that the fees the employers paid upfront, "effectively resulted in debt bondage at their destination."
Varia believes this situation amounts to forced labor.
Many workers also lived in overcrowded conditions. Twenty workers lived in less space than at a minimum security prison.
The workers also reported wage discrimination, where workers of different nationalities receive substantially different pay than others on the same contract with the same experience level. In Saudi Arabia, cleaners from India receive $213 a month, while those from Bangladesh are paid $106.