KBR Questioned on Labor Abuses in Iraq

Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR), the former
subsidiary of Halliburton, announced today that it was buying
Alabama-based BE&K for $500 million
. For David Nash, the president
of BE&K, and the man who was in charge of handing out
reconstruction contracts in Iraq shortly after the U.S. invasion in
March 2003, there must be a sense of deja vu to now be employed by
one of the biggest building companies working in Iraq.

David Nash spent over 33 years in the U.S.
Navy, beginning in Vietnam and ending as the top engineer (he was Chief of Civil Engineers and Commander of Naval
Facilities Engineering Command). In late 2003, he
was put in charge of the Iraq Program Management
Office
, most of
whose contracts were disastrous failures either because of poor
planning, supervision or because they were destroyed by insurgents.
Much has been written about the failure of these projects by
the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) and
in Blood Money,
an excellent book by T. Christian Miller
of the
Los Angeles Times. The
reports are still coming out; a report on Perini's power
projects was published at the end of April 2008, which sadly cost the
life of one of the auditors who was sent to find out why the project
failed.

BE&K is no stranger to KBR: indeed BE&K was sub-contracted to build a temporary tent
city after Hurricane Katrina to house 7,000 military personnel and
others assisting in the disaster response. Both KBR and
BE&K came under scrutiny for firing dozens
of unionized electricians, many of them local residents who had their
homes destroyed during Hurricane Katrina, in favor of lower-wage
migrant workers. 

CorpWatch attended KBR's annual meeting today at the Houstonian
hotel and met with William Utt, the company CEO, to ask him about the
company's policy on the exploitation of migrant workers, particularly
in Iraq, where the many sub-contractors employ at least 35,000 Third
Country Nationals (largely from South and South East
Asia)

Indeed these are the people who are
responsible for KBR's boast that it has
"served over 500 million meals, delivered 272 million pounds of
mail, produced more than 7.5 billion gallons of potable water,
transported more than 3.5 billion gallons of fuel, hosted more than 87
million patrons at MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) facilities,
logged nearly 3.7 million miles transporting supplies and equipment
for the military, and laundered 32 million bundles of laundry for the
troops." And this work is set to continue far into the
future - KBR has just been awarded a big chunk of the mammoth new $150
billion troop support contract in Iraq
.

Utt told CorpWatch that his
company followed the Federal Acquisition
Regulations and paid their staff "world-scale wages".  When we
noted to the assembled shareholders and the board of director that
these wages were as low as $9 a day for cleaners and $20 a day for
short-order cooks at the dining facilities we visited in April 2008,
and that many of these workers paid as much as $4,000 to get these
jobs in the first place, he acknowledged that he was aware of the
problem.


But our question still remains, what are
companies like KBR and BE&K going to actually do about their
workers wages other than react and investigate?

We invite Utt and Nash to learn more about the
labor conditions of workers in Iraq by reading some of our coverage of
this matter on the last few years. Our trip to Iraq in April 2008
suggests that very little has changed for the men and women who cook
the food and clean the toilets for the U.S, soldiers living in Iraq on
contract to KBR, its competitors, and their
sub-contractors.

Adding Insult to Injury

Non-CorpWatch articles

Lastly, but not least, we recommend an
excellent film by Lee Wang: "Someone Else's War" 

 

AMP Section Name:War & Disaster Profiteering