The ugly business of how military contractors find their workers
In September 2012, President Obama issued an executive order asserting a zero tolerance policy for government contractors who violated human trafficking laws. He specifically targeted recruitment fees that workers in southeast Asia frequently pay for work with military contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) is currently investigating Dyncorp, Fluor, and their subcontractor Ecolog after discovering that thousands of their employees paid such fees to secure jobs in Afghanistan.
Since 2007, the Army has awarded Dyncorp and Fluor a combined $16.8 billion to run a contract called the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP). The contractors oversee everything from laundry, to food preparation, to construction on military bases throughout Afghanistan. These companies, in turn, have relied on the subcontractor Ecolog to hire workers in Dubai, many of whom came from south Asia after paying a recruiter in their home country several thousand dollars.
Recruitment fees are the most common, but least punished form of human trafficking. “We protect women and children, but these are dark-skinned men,” says Sam McCahon, an attorney based in India. “The fact is 80 percent of human trafficking is for labor—only 20 percent is sex trafficking.” It is not surprising that labor trafficking is seen as a lesser evil than sex trafficking. The argument often goes: Is it really so bad to charge a worker in India a one-time fee in exchange for a job overseas with higher wages than he could find in his own country? But recruitment fees essentially create a system of indentured servitude. Workers usually take out high-interest loans in their home country to pay the fee, and the payments can trap them in their new jobs. Recruiters often mislead workers about their salary and the location of their job—promises of high-paying jobs in Jordanian hotels turn into custodial positions on U.S. military bases in warzones.