E-commerce giant Amazon has paid $1.9 million to more than 700 workers in Saudi Arabia as a reimbursement for unlawful recruitment fees, among other violations.

The compensation was released after investigations found irregularities related to the employment of workers contracted by third-party vendors to support Amazon’s operations in the kingdom, the company said in a statement.

In October last year, rights group Amnesty International published a report about the plight of employees deployed in Amazon warehouses in Saudi Arabia.

It claimed that the workers were deceived by recruitment agents and labour supply companies, cheated of their earnings, housed in “appalling” conditions and were prevented from finding alternative jobs or leaving the country.

“Many were highly likely victims of human trafficking,” the group said.

First enquiry

Following the claims, Amazon had commissioned a third-party labour rights expert, Verité, to conduct a focused assessment of foreign migrant issues and to investigate recruitment fees at two of its facilities in Saudi Arabia.

The enquiry included interviews with workers contracted by third-party licensed temporary labour agency Abdullah Fahad Al-Mutairi Co (AFMCO).

“Verité’s findings included violations of our Supply Chain Standards such as: worker-paid recruitment fees to obtain employment with AFMCO, substandard living accommodations, contract and wage irregularities and delays in the resolution of worker complaints,” Amazon said.

Amazon noted that the labour agency has already “remediated” the most serious concerns, including making significant progress to improve the housing of workers and ensure living conditions meet the company’s standards. The firm said that living accommodations have been upgraded, workers have been given lockers for their personal belongings and that the number of occupants per room has been limited.

Wider investigation

Amazon conducted further investigations to include practices of all the other third-party vendors throughout Saudi Arabia.

“We found instances where contracted workers were required to pay fees including recruitment fees and other costs, to secure employment – a violation of our supply chain standards,” it said.

Following the said findings, Amazon partnered with human rights expert Impactt Ltd to determine reimbursement amounts for the affected workers. They took into account the payments reported by workers, changes in historic exchange rates, compound inflation and interest.

“As a result of this work, Amazon paid $1.9 million in reimbursements to over 700 contracted workers,” the company said.

(Reporting by Cleofe Maceda; editing by Seban Scaria)