by David Phinney
Sunday June 16th 2024



Accused of Labor Abuse, Gulf Catering Wins More Business

By David Phinney

May 17, 2007 — Target for Constant Whining: Although repeatedly accused of labor abuse and possible human trafficking of workers, Gulf Catering won another multimillion-dollar contract to feed US troops.

Rest assured: The Pentagon looked into the allegations and found no substance to them. The unfounded badgering and rumors about the Saudi firm are all just malicious attacks — no doubt.

The Sole Subcontractor: Gulf Catering will be building and operating food services for 11 dining facilities serving US soldiers and sailors throughout Kuwait under a US contract held by Agility Defense & Government Services (formerly PWC Logistics). Agility won the one-year, fixed-price contract from the Defense Logistics Agency with options for two more years. Total Potential Worth: $127 Million, according to an Agility press release.

FALSE ALARM?: A source in Iraq alleged in March that dozens of Indian workers found employment conditions with Gulf Catering so bad that “they are running away at night from their camps here at Stryker and jumping the wire…. I am concerned for them because they are running and no where to go….. The embassy is in the Green zone ten miles away…. and you have to go in the red zone to get to it from here.”

Running away? The source said that Americans brought the Indians back to the camp. None of the low-paid workers had identification or passports. The documents were taken away from them by a manager before they ran away, the source was told. The Indian workers said they were quitting their jobs be they were being beaten. One said he had been handcuffed to a post for hours.

One unnamed source does not make this allegation worth a news story: So, I checked into it. I emailed Gulf Catering but received no reply. I phoned. A person took a message. I was told someone would get back to me. No one did.

The Army had no Idea: And referred the inquiry to Halliburton’s KBR, which holds the prime contract with the Army for maintenance and dining at Camp Stryker. Gulf Catering is a favored KBR subcontractor there. KBR said:

KBR has determined the information you have to be incorrect and does not involve KBR or its subcontractor. However, we can assure you that KBR does not condone and will not tolerate any practice that unlawfully compels subcontractor employees to deploy, perform work or remain in a place against their will.

I asked the KBR person in Iraq for a Gulf Catering contact. No response.

In the News:
Gulf Catering landed on The Washington Post radar for labor abuse and possible labor trafficking as early as July 1, 2004. Deftly written by Ariana Eunjung Cha, Underclass of Workers Created in Iraq tells the story of Dharmapalan Ajayakumar from India:

Ajayakumar, 29, a former carpenter’s assistant from this coastal town, was not there by choice…. He said he was tricked into going to Iraq by a recruiting agent who told him the job was in Kuwait. Moreover, he said, the company skimped on expenses by not providing him and other workers with adequate drinking water, food, health care or security for part of their time in the war zone…. “I cursed my fate — not having a feeling my life was secure, knowing I could not go back, and being treated like a kind of animal,” said Ajayakumar, who worked for less than $7 a day.

The Indian recruiter Subhash Vijay had hired Ajayakumar and other workers to work for Gulf Catering of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which was subcontracted to Alargan Group of Kuwait City, which was subcontracted to the Event Source of Salt Lake City, which in turn was subcontracted to KBR of Houston. They were issued ID cards that said “”Brown & Root,” a subsidiary to Halliburton.

The New York Times ran a similar story earlier that year about another group of Indians, Indian Contract Workers in Iraq Complain of Exploitation:

Officials from Gulf Catering Company, a Saudi company hired by KBR to provide food services at six American bases in Iraq, confirmed that it employed the four men. But the officials denied that the men had been exploited, underpaid or prevented from leaving Iraq.

“The passports are only kept for safekeeping,” said Nico Smith, the company’s human resources manager. “When they wanted to resign we never said they can’t go.”

Taking Away Passports: The Pentagon found last year that the practice of “holding and witholding” passports was “wide spread” among companies working under US-funded contracts in Iraq. It is a red flag for labor trafficking.

In the Pentagon’s words: “This practice violates the law under Title 18 U.S. Code.” That’s a serious violation punishable by fine and prison, but no company or individual has yet been publicly penalized.
More on the subject here.


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