Underclass of Workers Created in Iraq
"KBR does not condone and will not tolerate any practice that unlawfully compels subcontract employees to perform work or remain in place against their will," Mingo said.
The reconstruction of Iraq has provided workers from developing countries with job opportunities they might otherwise never have had. But the vast difference in the recruiting, compensation, accommodations and protection of some foreigners versus their American counterparts is raising uncomfortable questions about how companies calculate the value of a life in Iraq.
South Korean engineers working on Iraq's power grid have complained they did not get the flak jackets and helmets issued to U.S. co-workers. Some Filipino cleaners and other support workers have said they were given others' spoiled food to eat. And some of the Indian workers said they were brought in on buses with only gauze curtains to hide them from insurgents while many other contractors come into the country on chartered planes or in convoys with military escorts.
"They were working under threat and fear of death," said S. Sreejith, superintendent of police for Kollam, where the workers' complaints were first filed. American companies "are making money off of cheating our people."
Rep. Janice D. Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said contractors' use of multiple layers of subcontracts makes it difficult for the U.S. government to ensure the fair treatment of the workers it effectively employs.
"The whole area of private military contractors is very murky in terms of accountability, chain of command and relationship to our mission," she said, "but as you get into subcontracting it gets murkier and murkier . . . and you can't tell what's going on."
Manpower Export Market
The Indian state of Kerala where Ajayakumar grew up is most famous for being the center of the international spice trade in the 16th century. Today, it's known for its export of another important commodity: manpower.
Several million expatriates from Kerala, on the southern tip of the country, serve in the Persian Gulf region in jobs from doctors to gardeners. The money has transformed the state from a tropical backwater popularized in Arundhati Roy's 1997 Booker Prize-winning novel "The God of Small Things" to a modern center of commerce.
Ajayakumar was thrilled when a recruiting agent came to him in June 2003 and offered to "sell" him a two-year work visa in Kuwait for a catering company job that would pay $200 a month -- five times what he was making at the carpenter's shop. He gladly paid the agent's $1,800 fee, borrowing from local loan sharks, calculating that he would still make out with significant profits.
In late July, Ajayakumar boarded a train for Mumbai along with several dozen other Indian workers who were recruited for contract work: Abdul Jaleel Shani, 24, who had worked at a wedding store; brothers Abdul Aziz Hamid, 30, and Abdul Aziz Shahjahan, 28, who were butchers; and Manzoor Haneefa Kunju, 29, and Aliyaru Kunju Faisil, 34, who had worked at local hotels.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company