End Abuse of Foreign Workers on Military Bases

A Third Country National attempting to smile for the camera; he was a janitor for a base in Iraq.

Target: U.S. President Barack Obama

Goal: Stop the exploitation and abuse of foreign workers on U.S. military bases

Despite President Barack Obama’s executive order outlawing forced labor on U.S. military bases, the practice remains widespread. Trafficked laborers are ubiquitous, responsible for everything from frying burgers in the bases’ fast food courts to cutting a G.I.’s hair. Labeled “third-country nationals,” these foreign workers are often cheated out of wages, injured without compensation, sexually assaulted, and held in conditions akin to indentured servitude.

Individuals from South Asian countries like Nepal and the Philippines tend to be the most taken advantage of. The Pentagon awards prime contracts to U.S.-based private military juggernauts like DynCorp International and Fluor, which pass on their labor contracts to global subcontractors. Agents are then commissioned from small firms in the Third World known as “manpower agencies,” which then recruit laborers in person under false pretenses.

Exorbitant recruitment fees, ranging roughly range from $1,000 to $5,000, are charged to prospective employees to secure a position. Thousands comply fallaciously hoping for a better life abroad. Workers are promised large salaries in a safe and exotic location, while in reality monthly salaries fall between $400 and $800. Some earn as little as $75 a month, and many are unaware of the position’s actual location. Most laborers are not told they will be shipped to war zone bases, nor made aware that they will be housed abroad in shipping containers in deplorable conditions, sleeping on soiled mattresses and without access to clean water. Some paid the initial fees only to be warehoused for an extended period of time and never actually given a job.

Because taking fees from applicants directly is illegal, subcontractors are used. Thus, the hiring is outsourced and a portion of the recruitment fees are passed up the chain to the original contractors, exempting them from culpability. Most laborers are required to sign complicated labor contracts, which many of them cannot understand (along with signing a form that states no fee was paid), and are forced to surrender their passports. Third-country nationals must often borrow the money at a high interest rate to pay the initial fees, while their meager salaries abroad result in epic and insurmountable debt, and the prospect to leave is eliminated until their contract expires.

The U.S. regulations implemented to prevent trafficking have had no impact. If a worker admits to having paid a fee to the U.S. military, they are discharged and sent back to their country of origin without any hope of paying off their debt. This is a broken system: The trafficking of workers is made possible by U.S. tax dollars. It has been estimated that over $15 billion has been wasted on the contractors, who pocket most of the money.

Our U.S. tax dollars are supporting the mistreatment of hundreds of thousands of workers with no safety net. By signing the petition below, you will be urging President Obama to enact direct, immediate, and effective action to end these injustices.


Dear President Barack Obama,

The abuse of third-country nationals, who are employed by U.S. companies authorized by the U.S. government and paid with U.S. tax dollars, endure appalling treatment before they even arrive at foreign military bases. Your executive order issued in 2012 has had little effect on curbing the issues of abuse—laborers continue to be illegally recruited, exploited, and sexually, mentally, and physically abused. Recruitment agencies use nothing short of extortion, promising a better life and job abroad for an immense fee. Desperate laborers take out unreasonable loans at high interest rates only to live in deplorable conditions. They remain underpaid with no opportunity to escape squalor, mistreatment, or debt. They are not citizens of the country they work in, and thus are not protected by any global rights conventions.

President Obama, you are the only one who has the authority to stop the maltreatment of foreign workers on bases. Your current executive order only makes the environment worse. Any worker who has paid a recruitment fee, and confesses to having done so, is immediately terminated and sent home. This results in no income for the worker, so that the crushing debt only grows via unjust interest rates. The contractors must be punished, and a safety net should be established for mistreated foreign laborers. More emphasis should be placed on hiring Americans and locals to discourage the abusive and exploitative practices of recruitment middlemen. I urge you to take immediate action to end this U.S. government-funded injustice.


[Your Name]

Photo Credit: Polihale via Wikimedia Commons

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