Large companies such as truckmaker Volvo, Swiss-Swedish engineering group ABB, and packaging firm Tetra Pak have soaked up the benefits of Saudi Arabia's booming economy, but also sometimes adhere to local rules that violate the rights of their workers, according to SwedWatch, an umbrella group that comprises a number of human rights, fair trade and environmental organisations.
 
"ABB and Tetra Pak pay Saudi workers more than migrant workers even when they perform the same tasks. At [Swedish door-maker] Cardo Door's joint venture, Saudi Crawford Doors Factory, a Saudi can earn more than three times more than his foreign colleague," the group stated in its 61-page report.

While Saudi laws call for migrant workers to, as far as possible, be replaced by nationals, SwedWatch insisted that Swedish companies have an obligation to "adequately compensate migrant workers who have to quit their jobs due to the Saudisation process".
 
Especially shocking, according to the group, is that all Swedish-Saudi companies keep the migrant workers' passports, pointing out that the practice is prohibited by the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

"No employee should have to hand over his identity paper to the employer," SwedWatch said.

Reaction

Responding to the findings, a media spokesperson for Volvo, Marten Wikforss, told Aljazeera.net that because passports of foreign workers are often needed by the Saudi authorities for various bureaucratic reasons, the agency that employs workers usually keeps workers' passports.

"Workers need exit permits, for example, to leave the country at any time, and passports are required to process this," he said.

"The problem is that women in general in the Western world are not interested in these kinds of heavy construction work"

Marten Wikforss,
Media spokesman, Volvo

It is thus easier for the agencies or employers to hold the passports for processing papers required to be in the country or leave the country, he explained.

SwedWatch, in its report, also said five out of six Swedish-Saudi companies do not employ women at all, according to the group, an issue that is especially shocking in Sweden, a pioneer of gender equality.

"The problem," said Wikforss, "is that women in general in the Western world are not interested in these kinds of heavy construction work.

"Even in our plants in Sweden, if we have 20 employees, it doesn't mean, at best, two or three would be female.

"We would do anything we could to get more females to work," added Wikforss.  

Spokespersons for ABB and Tetra Pak could not be reached for comment by Aljazeera.