Migrant Workers Report Abuses at Overseas Locations of Major American and British Brands
Investigation Reveals Labor Trafficking Indicators in McDonald’s, Amazon, Chuck E. Cheese, and InterContinental Hotels Group Operations in the Persian Gulf
October 11, 2023: — A joint investigation led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), in collaboration with media partners, The Guardian US, NBC News, and Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism, has uncovered disturbing labor abuses faced by nearly 100 migrant laborers from Asia working in the Persian Gulf branches of major American and British brands, including McDonald’s, Amazon, Chuck E. Cheese, and InterContinental Hotels Group.
These laborers have revealed an alarming pattern of repressive labor practices that include coercive recruitment fees, deceptive hiring practices, confiscation of passports, and restrictions on the freedom to leave their jobs. These practices are widely recognized as indicators of labor trafficking, which involves using force, coercion, or fraud to exploit workers.
The investigation, called Trafficking Inc., has brought to light the labor abuses and exploitation suffered by these workers, who were employed through various arrangements. Workers for McDonald’s, Chuck E. Cheese, and InterContinental Hotels in the Persian Gulf region are primarily direct employees of franchise holders or local partners. Meanwhile, those who believed they were employed by Amazon found themselves working for Saudi labor supply firms that placed them in contract positions at the online retail giant.
The revelations have raised questions about the responsibilities of these multinational corporations under U.N. human rights standards to monitor and ensure fair labor practices throughout their global supply chains, even when the component is a franchise holder.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a federal law enacted in 2000 to protect trafficking victims and prosecute traffickers, could potentially apply to these American parent companies if they are found to have been complicit in labor abuses through their overseas subsidiaries, franchises, and business partnerships.
According to Agnieszka Fryszman, chair of the human rights practice at Cohen Milstein, a U.S. law firm, these companies could be held liable under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act if they knew or should have known of the forced labor in their supply chains.
These findings underscore the need for multinational corporations to proactively monitor labor practices in the Persian Gulf region, which is known for weak labor protections and the abuse of migrant workers. The report highlights that despite reforms in labor laws in Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries, many foreign workers remain vulnerable due to limited protections and weak enforcement.
In response to these revelations, multinational corporations like McDonald’s, Amazon, InterContinental Hotels Group, and Chuck E. Cheese have expressed their concern over the alleged labor abuses and have pledged to investigate and rectify any issues.
The investigation brings to light the challenges and injustices faced by migrant workers in the Persian Gulf, emphasizing the importance of holding multinational corporations accountable for ensuring the fair treatment of workers throughout their global operations.