The company in charge of the construction of the US’s new fortress (sorry, ‘embassy’) in Baghdad, First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting, has found an interesting solution to the problem of sourcing willing labour for what is generally regarded as being one of the most dangerous building projects in the world. Forget profit-diminishing incentives such as high wages, attractive conditions, bonuses etc; First Kuwaiti has bypassed such fripperies and opted instead for kidnapping.
By the simple expedient of lying to its prospective employees, the company is able to get them to board specially chartered planes. Once in the air, the workers are informed that, although their boarding passes may say ‘Dubai’ or ‘United Arab Emirates’, their destination is, in fact, Baghdad.
Alone amongst the British press, The Sunday Times of 5 August 2007 carried a short article revealing that a Senate House oversight committee in the US has been set up to investigate repeated allegations that workers from Asia and Africa are being routinely tricked onto planes bound for the Iraqi capital and sent to work on the construction of the colonial stronghold. Consisting of 21 high-rise towers and occupying 104 acres on the west bank of the River Tigris, when complete, the citadel is expected to house around 3,000 ‘staff’.
The Sunday Times article quotes eye witness Rory Mayberry describing the panic and hysteria among Filipino passengers on his flight: “When the plane took off and the captain announced we were headed for Baghdad, all you-know-what broke loose. People started shouting. It wasn’t until a security guy working for First Kuwaiti waved an MP5 [sub-machinegun] in the air that people settled down. They realised they had no choice.”
Another witness, John Owens, described the appalling conditions that workers face once they arrive in Baghdad. Living in cramped, squalid trailers, they are forced to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week for a token ‘wage’ of between £120-150 per month. Added to the general danger of the position these workers find themselves in, Owens testified to the committee that conditions in the camp are “deplorable, beyond what any man should tolerate”. (‘“Kidnapped” Filipinos build US embassy’ by Nicola Smith)
Essentially, the workers thus abducted are present-day slaves, kidnapped and forced into horrific conditions of life and work for little or no reward.
Despite the heinous nature of these crimes, committed by US businesses in service of the Anglo-American occupation in Iraq, there has been next to no coverage by the US mainstream media, and nothing to speak of in Britain’s either, aside from the brief article cited above. No front-page headlines have denounced the US for human trafficking; no commentators have been heard on the radio discussing the retribution that ought to follow such dastardly deeds; and no resolutions have been proffered in the UN.
Amidst all the hypocritical fanfare about Britain’s ‘virtuous’ role in the abolition of the slave trade, it is instructive to note the palpable lack of interest in the fate of Asian and African workers being shipped around the world against their will to do the dirty work of present-day imperialism.