Kellogg Brown & Root, Inc. ("KBR"), one of the largest U.S. military contractors in Iraq (prior post here), was sued late last week in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, California, for its involvement in the trafficking of 13 Nepali men.
The plight of these men was first uncovered in a 2005 award-winning series by Chicago Tribune reporter Cam Simpson. He described how the Nepali men had been promised jobs in Jordanian hotels and restaurants, but ultimately found themselves being transported against their will to Iraq to provide menial labor at the U.S. Al Asad Airbase. On their way to Iraq, twelve of the men were taken hostage and executed by the Iraqi insurgents, their executions filmed and posted on the internet. The 13th trafficking victim, Buddi Prasad Gurung, who was being transported in a different vehicle, arrived at the U.S. military facility in August 2004. There, the lawsuit alleges, he was held against his will for 15 months and forced to work as a loader/unloader in a warehouse supervised by KBR. Represented by the Washington, D.C., law firm Cohen Milstein, Gurung joined the survivors of the 12 deceased victims to filing claims under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, RICO, and the Alien Tort Claims Act.
This lawsuit highlights an under-reported and long-ignored facet of the global human trafficking problem -- the trafficking of men for forced labor.
While human trafficking has become a hot issue in recent years -- even Lexis Nexis has a campaign against trafficking -- most of the attention has traditionally been focused on the trafficking of women and girls into the sex industry. But as recognized under international law (the 2000 U.N. Trafficking Protocol), traffickers are equal opportunity exploiters, trafficking women, men, girls, and boys into a wide range of labor sectors, including forced agricultural, construction, and domestic work.
The U.S. government is finally starting to address the broader spectrum of trafficking practices beyond sex trafficking. Take a look at his year's U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons Report, or "TIP Report" (below left), about which IntLawGrrl Karen E. Bravo also posts below. In this year's annual U.S. report card that assesses and ranks other countries' efforts to combat trafficking), the State Department makes an effort to go beyond traditional trafficking stereotypes, and thus to highlight the roles of women as traffickers, and of men and boys as trafficked persons. The 2008 TIP Report also signals the State Department's long overdue recognition that trafficking occurs within the context of otherwise legal forms of transnational labor migration (e.g., the recruitment of the Nepali men for hotel and restaurant jobs).
The U.S. Congress, meanwhile, is making efforts to address trafficking for non-sexual exploitation. In the draft Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, Congress has proposed measures to prevent labor recruitment abuse and to address diplomat abuse of domestic workers, the latter issue the subject of a recent, scathing critique of the State Department by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).