The New Yorker has unearthed a horrible secret related to the staffing of military bases in the Middle East. Companies that are contracted by the United States to provide support services to bases in locations like Afghanistan routinely lure women far from their homes to be employees, where they become trapped. After traveling from locations as far as Asia, these women expect to find lucrative careers, but are then forced to perform menial services for a fraction of the promised pay. Deception and virtual enslavement permeate their circumstances. More on this story:
But what’s this about the U.S. military? Well, Sarah Stillman’s excellently reported New Yorker piece on foreign workers on U.S. bases reveals that in order to decrease the numbers of U.S. military personnel stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq, subcontracting companies like K.B.R., Dyna Corp and hundreds of others have taken on staffing for thousands of jobs on military bases—jobs like working at fast food restaurants, hair salons and other shops and restaurants that provide soldiers with some of the comforts of home. But many of these subcontractors’ hiring practices haven’t always been forthright. Take the case of Lydia, Vinnie and Melanie, three women from Fiji whose stories are chronicled in the New Yorker story. The women were solicited to apply for what they believed to be lucrative hairdressing jobs in Dubai, and were accepted for the positions. They excitedly forked over a $500 commission—and their passports—and left their families behind, with the promise of making at least five times of what they could bring home in Fiji.
Except the job in Dubai didn’t exist. Instead, the women were shipped on to U.S. military bases in Iraq and told that if they tried to terminate their contracts early, they would face thousands of dollars in fines. The big pay days they were promised—the very reason the women left their homes, their families and their jobs in Fiji to begin with—disappeared as well. Instead of earning between $1,500 and $3,800 per month, the women were told they would make around $350 a month, for a work week that consisted of 12 hour days, seven days a week. They lived in shipping containers; Lydia was sexually assaulted several times. The only way home, according to the contracts the women received, was a return ticket “upon completion of service.” Need I remind you that this took place on a U.S. military base in Iraq, where the American military is ostensibly fighting for the freedom of the Iraqi people?
The U.S. military has a long history of shady operations, both overt and covert, so we shouldn’t be surprised. Yet, this revelation is truly heartbreaking. Our military is supporting the evisceration of individual human liberty by turning a blind eye to the activities of its contractors. Not only are our soldiers making sacrifices — criminally negligent military management is forcing them to make sacrifices on the backs of others. This is the last thing our men and women in uniform would want.
Female empowerment site The Frisky encourages concerned citizens to, “Let your legislators know how you feel about this, get involved, and stop believing that because a war is happening over there that there aren’t consequences right here at home.” As African-Americans, we know the dehumanizing destruction of human exploitation. I hope this motivates us to make statements to our elected officials on behalf of these stolen people, who are ultimately serving us.