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Amazon, McDonald’s, Chuck E. Cheese and InterContinental Hotels Group respond to Trafficking Inc. investigation

Read statements from four well-known brands responding to allegations of repressive labor practices being used at outlets in the Persian Gulf.

An investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists found dozens of migrant laborers from Asia who said that they had been subjected to repressive labor practices while working at Persian Gulf locations of four well-known American and British brands: McDonald’s, Amazon, Chuck E. Cheese and InterContinental Hotels Group.

The current and former workers told ICIJ that independent employment agents in their home countries coerced them into paying exorbitant recruiting fees, while labor contractors and workplace supervisors in Saudi Arabia and other destination countries subjected them to abuses that included confiscating their passports and limiting their freedom to leave their jobs. These practices are widely identified as indicators of labor trafficking, which is defined by the United States and the United Nations as using force, coercion or fraud to exploit workers.

The workers were interviewed as part of Trafficking Inc., a joint investigation by ICIJ, the Guardian US, NBC News, Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism and other media partners. The latest installments in the investigation reveal how some of the world’s most recognized companies may be complicit in labor abuses through their overseas subsidiaries, franchises and business partnerships.

Here are statements from Amazon, McDonald’s, Chuck E. Cheese, InterContinental Hotels Group and their related franchisees:

Statements from Amazon

Statement attributable to John Felton, Senior Vice President of Worldwide Operations, Amazon:

“Amazon does not tolerate violations of our long-established Supply Chain Standards or Global Human Rights Principles, and we take any allegation of violations extremely seriously. Providing safe, healthy and fair working conditions is a requirement of doing business with Amazon in every country where we operate, and we are deeply concerned that some of our contract workers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) were not treated with the standards we set forth, and the dignity and respect they deserve. We appreciate their willingness to come forward and report their experience. Our supply chain audit process and our own investigation surfaced violations of our standards by our third-party vendor, and we worked closely with them to align on a compliance plan, which they’ve agreed to, that addresses those violations and complies with our standards. This includes ensuring their employees are repaid for any unpaid wages or worker-paid recruitment fees, are provided clean and safe accommodations, and that the vendor is committed to ensuring ongoing protections for workers. We will continue to work closely with the vendor to ensure they make the verifiable changes so that all impacted workers are provided for appropriately. While we considered immediately suspending this vendor when these allegations came to light, we determined that it was in the best interests of their employees, many of whom traveled from other countries to Saudi Arabia for work, to instead work diligently with the vendor to make significant changes to their operations. We have a wide variety of ways that workers at our sites can report issues with how they are treated, including a confidential 24-hour hotline, and we encourage workers to take advantage of these as another way for us to ensure compliance by all of our vendors everywhere that we operate. In addition, we’re implementing stronger controls for all of our vendors to ensure similar incidents do not occur and to raise overall standards for workers in the region, including providing enhanced trainings for our third-party vendors on labor rights standards with a specific focus on recruitment, wages, and deception.”

Follow up statement attributable to Amazon:

  • Amazon is committed to ensuring that everyone connected to our business, including our suppliers and their workers, are treated with fundamental dignity and respect. Providing safe, healthy and fair working conditions is a requirement of doing business with Amazon in every country where we operate, and if we identify potential violations of our standards, or misconduct by our suppliers, we take immediate steps to resolve those issues.
  • The violations related to the third-party vendor included worker-paid recruitment fees and deception in the recruitment process, unsafe working conditions, inadequate living conditions, and withheld wages.
  • The vendor has demonstrated its commitment to work with Amazon on a compliance plan, which includes short-term and long-term steps to ensure ongoing protections for workers and provides remediation of all violations. We will continue to work closely with the vendor to ensure they make the verifiable changes so that all impacted workers are provided for appropriately.

Statements from McDonald’s and Riyadh International Catering Company

Statement attributable to McDonald’s Corporation:

“These allegations are extremely troubling. Together with our Franchisees, McDonald’s is deeply committed to upholding human rights and cultivating respectful workplaces where everyone is empowered to realize their full potential. That is why last year, McDonald’s introduced our Responsible and Ethical Recruitment Principles, which provide a consistent approach, above and beyond local laws, regulations, and practices around the world, to protecting migrant workers, including ensuring no migrant worker pays for recruitment fees and related costs to secure their employment. As part of our phased implementation approach, McDonald’s will continue to provide resources and tools to help all of our franchisees ensure these standards are met within their organizations. These principles supplement the long-existing expectations McDonald’s has held for our business, supply chain and all McDonald’s brand restaurants as outlined in our Supplier Code of Conduct, our Standards of Business Conduct, and our Human Rights Policy.”

Statement attributable to Riyadh International Catering Company (RICC), McDonald’s Developmental Licensee:

“Nothing is more important than ensuring the safety and respect of the employees who keep our restaurants running every day. Riyadh International Catering Company (RICC) is committed to being a responsible and meaningful employer for the local communities we serve, and we abide by all local labor laws and regulations. To ensure we’re living up to these values, we make available a variety of channels for employees to report concerns, including hotlines as well as regular visits to restaurants by our Human Resource teams. Additionally, we are proudly in the process of updating our employment standards to not only meet what is legally required of our organization, but to continue to take our human rights commitments a step further through McDonald’s Responsible and Ethical Recruitment Principles.”

Please note the below additional background information, which shares important details on our Responsible and Ethical Recruitment Principles as introduced last year (attributable to the company as paraphrase):

  • See here for more information on our Responsible and Ethical Recruitment Principles, which consist of the following five standards. As part of a phased approach, these principles are being implemented at the market level, taking into account the particular details and risks of the communities in which the McDonald’s brand operates.
  • Workers do not pay recruitment fees;
  • Workers are provided contracts in a language fully understandable by the workers at the point of recruitment and prior to deployment;
  • McDonald’s and our franchisees/ Developmental Licensees do not keep or withhold any government-issued identification, monetary deposits, bonding or other collateral as a condition of employment;
  • If workers reside in employer provided housing, there must be a plan for management of safe housing and accommodation, including that it is fit for purpose and in good repair;
  • McDonald’s and our franchisees/ Developmental Licensees apply these standards to themselves and to third parties recruiting and/or managing labor on their behalf.
  • We encourage open and honest communication among our employees and our business partners. Employees of McDonald’s and its majority-owned subsidiaries may raise recruitment-related issues, or report potential or actual responsible recruitment violations through a number of reporting channels, including contacting Human Resources, Business Integrity or the Global Compliance Office.
  • Reports received by the Global Compliance Office of alleged violations of the Standards of Business Conduct or other McDonald’s policies by McDonald’s employees are reviewed and addressed as appropriate.
  • We take our responsibility to respect human rights throughout our value chain seriously. Our commitment is set out in our Human Rights Policy (PDF – 91 KB), which is guided by the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), the International Bill of Human Rights and the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. Our Human Rights Policy was developed through a highly consultative process, benchmarking against industry peers and benefiting from third-party guidance, including external human rights experts and stakeholders.

Statement from Chuck E. Cheese/CEC Entertainment

“We have multiple independent third-party franchise operators licensing the CEC brand. CEC does not own or operate any locations directly in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or the UAE. As part of their franchise agreement, we require all independent operators to comply with the local laws and regulations of the country in which they operate. We regularly conduct visits and inspections of these locations to assess their operations, and during these visits, we have neither observed nor received reports of improper activities by our franchisees.

“We take matters concerning the fair treatment of team members, whether they work directly for CEC or our third-party operators, as in this case, very seriously. We hold all of our partners to the highest level of operational excellence for our team members and our guests. We will continue to hold our partners accountable to ensure they meet the high expectations and standards set by CEC.”

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Statements from InterContinental Hotels Group/IHG Hotels & Resort

Statement attributable to a spokesperson for IHG Hotels & Resorts:

“Respecting human rights is an integral part of our global commitment to be a responsible business. We take all reports concerning labour and human rights issues within our hotels and supply chains seriously, investigate them comprehensively and are committed to ongoing human rights due diligence.”

Please find further information below for your background:

Guidelines pertaining to human rights, employee rights, and combating human trafficking and forced labour

We have a number of written standards in place to help govern our approach to human rights and modern slavery. This includes our:

  • Code of Conduct, which provides an overview of our values, reporting concerns framework and group policies.
  • Human Rights Policy, which sets out our commitment to respect human rights in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
  • Supplier Code of Conduct, which sets out the standards under which IHG suppliers are expected to operate within their own business and supply chain.
  • Human Rights Brand Standard, which requires all IHG-branded hotels to have in place a human rights policy.
  • Responsible Labour Requirements, which operationalise IHG’s Human Rights Policy in our owned, leased, and managed hotels. The Requirements set minimum standards on recruitment and employment, staff accommodation, worker voice and working with recruitment agencies and third-party labour suppliers.
  • E-learning modules on Preventing Human Trafficking and Responsible Recruitment support the implementation of our human rights commitments.
  • An independent, confidential channel via the telephone or internet which can be used by any person with a relationship to IHG (including our suppliers and their workers) to speak up and report concerns. It is available in approximatively 150 languages.

Assessments of working conditions in hotels and the recruitment companies used to recruit overseas staff, including findings of latest inspection

We have undertaken, and participated in, a number of assessments to strengthen our understanding and management of labour practice risks at hotel-level. Further details are available on pages 12-15 of our Modern Slavery Statements from 2020, 2021 and 2022.

Guarantor system

In accordance with IHG’s Human Rights Policy and Responsible Labour Requirements, workers must have freedom of movement at all times. We are investigating the information you have provided to ensure our policies are being fully implemented.

Recruitment fees

In accordance with IHG’s Human Rights Policy and Responsible Labour Requirements, no worker should pay for a job. Please refer to our responses to the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre Migrant Worker Survey in 2022 and 2023 for further information. We continue to develop policies, processes, and requirements for hotels to help better understand and address this issue.

Passport retention at Crowne Plaza and InterContinental hotels in Oman, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia

In accordance with IHG’s Human Rights Policy and Responsible Labour Requirements, workers must have freedom of movement at all times. All workers must have possession of or direct access without restrictions to their personal documents.  We are investigating the information you have provided to ensure our policies are being fully implemented.

Impeding resignations and alternative employment

In line with our Human Rights Policy and Responsible Labour Requirements, workers must have freedom of movement at all times. Where the hotel is required to provide worker with official documents to leave or change employer, this must be granted upon request and in alignment with local law and regulations. We are investigating the information you have provided to us to ensure our policies are being fully implemented.

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