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Human Rights for Oil

March 14, 2012

Saudi Arabia. The name alone conjures an image of men dressed in thobes, their heads covered by red and white checked ghutra’s and women covered head to toe in black abayas. The mention of Saudi Arabia also immediately brings to mind a popular three-letter word. OIL. Since the discover of oil in the 1930s the US has been the top consumer of Saudi oil and this relationship has benefited the US population who enjoy far cheaper fuel prices than the rest of the world. But I wonder, why are US citizens willing to ignore the major violations of human rights that occur on a daily basis in Saudi Arabia just to save money when fueling up their car? Is it because these violations do not affect them or because those who are mistreated are easily ignored, lower class members of society who have no voice? Or are the people of the US even aware of the horrific violations of human rights that are indirectly the result of the oil wealth of Saudi Arabians?

Until the discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia in the 1930s, Saudi Arabia was a bedouin kingdom ruled by the powerful Saudi tribe. The country had no resources and no wealth. And then came Mr. Crane and his sidekick Twitchell. With the discovery of oil, money began to flow into the kingdom. This sudden enormous wealth brought even more power to the ruling Saudi family, who are now among the richest people in the world. With their new-found wealth came an increase in self-assurance and an ignorant feeling of superiority that because they had money, they could do and buy whatever they wanted. Including other people. Slavery may have been abolished in the rest of the world, but it is still prevalent in countries like Saudi Arabia in the Middle East. Members of the Saudi royal family are known to have sex slaves. This practice is forbidden by the Quran, but in Saudi Arabia, money can pay for anything.  The men often travel to Asia to buy women and bring them back as sex slaves. Or they simply order them from a recruiting company such as Manpower, who provides workers at a low-cost to the employers. Many people, especially women, from countries in Asia and Africa pay a hefty fee to recruiting companies like Manpower to help them obtain visas and employment in wealthy countries such as UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Often, these domestic workers are employed as childcare and elder care providers or as housekeepers. Sadly though, there are occasions when they are also forced into sex slavery by their employers, who view foreign women as promiscuous and therefore deserving of the sexual abuse.

In Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries that recruit workers from poorer countries, there are many cases of the workers who are underpaid, or not at all, who are denied food, who are forced to work long hours without adequate rest, who are beaten and abused, and who are powerless. These workers are powerless for many reasons, they may be locked in their employer’s home, unable to seek help, they may be afraid of the consequences,  or there may be no means of seeking legal justice. Sadly, even when the home countries of the workers seek to protect their countrymen, there are consequences. This was seen when the Philippines attempted to stop sending women to Saudi Arabia after a large number of Filipino women were held as slaves and severely mistreated. In response, the Saudi government forbid Filipino men to work in Saudi Arabia as well.  Considering that in 2008 overseas Filipino workers sent home an estimated US$19billion, which was at that time 11.4% of the country’s GDP, the country was forced to allow women to once again travel to Saudi Arabia, knowing these women would likely be mistreated.

So what does all of this have to do with oil? It’s simple. Saudi Arabia is a wealthy country ONLY because it has oil. People around the world should boycott Saudi oil until the government agrees to put into place a system of labor reforms to protect migrant workers. These reforms need to include: A system for overseeing where migrant workers are placed and for checking that workers are given suitable living conditions and appropriate safety gear if it is needed for the work. A labor contract to ensure employers pay fair wages and provide an adequate rest period and additional pay for overtime. Governments also need to provide place for workers to safely voice complaints and seek legal assistance without fear of losing their job, having wages withheld or being thrown into jail.

So let us take action and protect those who cannot afford to protect themselves. Start a boycott against companies that use oil from the Middle East: Shell, Amoco, Exxon/Mobil, Chevron/Texaco, Marathon/Speedway. Stop counting your pennies when you fill up your tank.  If you are so concerned about the cost of fuel, start a carpool, start taking public transportation, buy a hybrid car, learn more about biofuel…

  • As a side note, I do believe that recruiting companies such as Manpower, should also be held responsible especially since they extort ridiculous amounts of money from people who can barely afford to pay, thus placing them into a position of indentured servitude before they even leave their home country.

All around the world there are countless acts of human rights abuses, we cannot always turn a blind eye. These are someone’s children, someone’s parents, someone’s brother or sister. Imagine they were your own family, would you still ignore their plight?

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