ACLU Files Lawsuit Seeking Information on Trafficking and Labor Abuse of Foreign Workers on U.S. Military Bases in Iraq and Afghanistan

July 21, 2011

Inadequate Monitoring and Enforcement Allows Abuses by Government Contractors to Continue

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 21, 2011

CONTACT:
Josh Bell, ACLU national, (212) 549-2508 or 2666; media@aclu.org

NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a lawsuit demanding that the government release documents relating to the trafficking and the abusive treatment of foreign workers on U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Freedom of Information Act case, brought on behalf of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), seeks documents from the Departments of State and Defense that detail audits and complaints about military contractors working in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Military contractors recruit tens of thousands of foreign workers, mainly from poor countries, to provide U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan with essential logistical support such as cooking, cleaning and construction services. Over the past few years, media reports have detailed abuses of these workers by contractors including deceptive hiring practices, excessive recruitment fees and provision of substandard living conditions.

"While the U.S. government’s condemnation of human trafficking is commendable, it would appear that in Iraq and Afghanistan, little is being done to effectively stem the flow of trafficking of foreign workers by contractors onto U.S. military bases in those two countries," said Steven Watt, staff attorney with the ACLU Human Rights Program. "Clearly, the rules and oversight mechanisms currently in place are doing little to deter and prevent trafficking and other labor abuses."

In 2006, mounting evidence of trafficking and other abuses of foreign workers by U.S. military contractors prompted the issuance of new regulations by General George Casey, then commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. The new rules for contractors mandated basic standards of living, prohibited the use of unlicensed recruiting firms and required that workers retain their passports.

Since then, however, it has been difficult to determine what impact if any these new rules have had on trafficking and other labor abuses. Recent media reports suggest that they have had little effect. Cases of trafficking and abuse of foreign workers in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to be published and reveal that the rules are neither being followed by contractors nor enforced by the government.

"Transparency about how the military and its contractors deal with the trafficking and abuse of foreign workers is necessary if we are ever going to stop such abuses on U.S. military bases overseas," said Becca Heller, director of IRAP. "There is an urgent need for more effective oversight of the treatment of migrant and stateless laborers on military bases and better enforcement of the rules against trafficking and labor abuses."

The persistence of the problem of trafficking of foreign workers by military contractors has recently been recognized by Congress. On July 7, 2011, the House passed an amendment to the Defense Department appropriations bill prohibiting department funds from being used for human trafficking.

Alex Abdo, ACLU staff attorney, is also counsel on the case.

The complaint can be found at:
www.aclu.org/human-rights/military-contractor-human-trafficking-complaint

The FOIA request can be found at:
www.aclu.org/human-rights/military-contractor-human-trafficking-foia-req...
 

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