Last Thursday the House Oversight and Government Reform committee held a hearing on allegations of waste, fraud, and abuse at the new United States Embassy in Iraq where multiple whistleblowers reported that the contractor in charge of the project, First Kuwaiti, engaged in human trafficking.
These allegations confirm a June 2006 State Department Report and Department of Defense investigation that found "widespread" abuses by contractors working in Iraq that included: "illegal confiscation of TCN's [third country national] passports; deceptive hiring practices and excessive recruitment fees; substandard living conditions; and circumvention of Iraqi immigration procedures" (see page 21 of 295).
One of the whistleblowers was Rory Mayberry, a former subcontractor for First Kuwaiti. In his testimony, he described his plane flight to Baghdad that led him to believe that 51 Filipino nationals had been kidnapped to work on the Embassy (a video of Mayberry's testimony is available here). A foreman at the site, John Owens, gave a detailed description of the deplorable working conditions--ranging from poor pay and insufficient basic needs (like shoes and gloves) to verbal and physical abuse. He also testified that he too believed he witnessed human trafficking (video of Owen's testimony available here).
The GAO has recently released two reports on combating human trafficking crimes. Both reports stress the need for improvement, recommending that U.S. agencies enhance collaboration and monitoring of the problem. Currently, information on this problem relies heavily on the private sector self-reporting instances of abuse, which is a far from effective tool to try to eradicate this problem.
H.R. 369 also hopes to shed more light on this problem by requiring the Department of Justice Inspector General to submit to Congress a report that would include "investigations of abuses alleged to have been committed by contract personel." In January, POGO urged regular audits of contractors to assure compliance of human trafficking regulations.
-- Mandy Smithberger