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For Immediate Release: October 17th, 2006
Contact:  David Phinney
202-543-0813
phinneydavid@yahoo.com

Pratap Chatterjee
+1-202-580-8393
pratap@corpwatch.org


U.S. Embassy in Baghdad built by trafficked workers in squalid working conditions

(transcripts of interviews with Filipino workers available upon request)

Workers accuse the Kuwait contractor building the US embassy in Baghdad of labor trafficking and smuggling low-paid South Asians into Iraq. Still, the US State Department casts a blind eye on the complaints as it rushes to complete its most ambitious embassy project ever.

"The possibility that a company under a US State Department contract is trafficking and smuggling workers into a war zone is an insult the values that most Americans support and die for. The fact that the accused contractor, First Kuwaiti Trading and Contracting, is building the $592-million US embassy perhaps the most high-profile symbol of US presence in Iraq is doubly astounding" says journalist David Phinney.

Based on interviews with sources that range from more than a half dozen former First Kuwaiti employees to numerous competing contractors, this latest CorpWatch investigation reveals complaints about the deceptive trafficking operation and the horrid working conditions faced by the people on-the-ground in Iraq.

ALLEGATIONS:

    *  Witnesses say First Kuwaiti has smuggled low-paid Asian workers on planes toBaghdad after taking away their passports and issuing airplane boarding passes for Dubai. Taking passports is a violation of US trafficking laws and contracting.

    * First Kuwaiti has coerced low-paid workers to take jobs in Iraq against their wishes after recruiters lured them to Kuwait for different jobs. (Interviews with Filipino workers who escaped Iraq available.)

    * Although no journalist is allowed on embassy site, prostitutes are smuggled in by First Kuwaiti managers, according to former employees. Prostitutes are a "breach of security," says one former manager for the company.

    * An American medic recommended that health clinics serving thousands of embassy construction workers be shut down for unsanitary conditions and then was fired. He also requested the investigation of two workers who may have died from mistreatment. Prescription pain killers were handed out like "candy" and workers were sent back to work on project, he says.

    * There have been numerous beatings of workers by First Kuwaiti managers and labor strikes, say former employees. This reflects complaints of others who witnessed mistreatment on other projects.


BACKGROUND:

Contractor: First Kuwaiti Trading and Contracting, a Kuwait Firm sponsored by Mohammad I. H. Marafie of the powerful Marafie family and managed by Wahdid al Absi, a Christian Lebanese who may have growing political influence in Lebanon.

The company was a $35 million firm in early 2003 and now holds nearly $2 billion in contracts; largely US funded and related to Iraq.

Embassy Project: $592 million construction began in fall 2005. It will be equal in size to the Vatican and cover an area 2/3rds the size of the Washington Mall. It will be, by far, the largest US embassy in the world.

Contract Award: Awarded in summer 2005. The Announcement appeared on FedBizOps one day and then was removed at First Kuwaiti's request for "security reasons." Sources say the contractor was not pre-approved and never built a US embassy before, especially one with so much classified work. It is also said to have entered the competition late. First Kuwaiti's bid was $60 million or more over the lowest US bidder, Framaco, which has won awards in the past for embassy construction. Numerous US contractors have been hired and then cancelled for classified work. Several are furious.

see entire article here: http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=14173

CorpWatch investigates and exposes corporate violations of human rights, environmental crimes, fraud and corruption around the world. We work to foster global justice, independent media activism and democratic control over corporations.

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