Humiliation of Aramco worker reflects serious failure of Arab companies to respect human rights

London—The photos that went viral recently of an Asian Saudi Aramco worker forced to act as a human stand for dispensing hand sanitizer reflect a lack of respect for human dignity and a failure to protect human rights, says ImpACT International for Human Rights Policies.

The London-based think tank adds the photos from the state-owned oil company illustrate a broader pattern of exploitation of the large number of imported, low-paid labor. Foreign workers are frequently not treated as human beings, but as objects or property.

“This type of behavior is reflective of racist policies tantamount to modern-day slavery,” says ImpACT. 

Even if such behaviors are done without the knowledge of the relevant bodies, the fact that it occurred reflects a real weakness of senior management in enforcing human rights policies and the prevention of discriminatory treatment

In a tweet, Aramco deplored the abusive behavior, saying it was conducted without permission of the relevant body in the company. The tweet stated that the practice has stopped, and the company has taken strict measures to prevent its repetition.  

"However, even if such behaviors are done without the knowledge of the relevant bodies, the fact that it occurred reflects a real weakness of senior management in enforcing human rights policies and the prevention of discriminatory treatment," states ImpACT International.

ImpACT further stresses that large, state-owned companies' negligence of human rights principles negatively impacts not only their employees but the country as a whole.  Saudi Aramco has previously faced major lawsuits, including allegations of violations of antitrust laws related to the kingdom's membership in OPEC.

In addition, Saudi Aramco is the largest producer of hydrocarbons in the world, which raises concerns about the extent of its contribution to the global climate crisis. The company is a significant driver of global warming, including the rise in the earth’s surface temperature and alarmingly high carbon emissions. Meanwhile, it lags in its contribution to the transition to renewable and alternative energy. Saudi Aramco has produced approximately 4.4% of the world’s carbon dioxide and methane emissions since 1965.

ImpACT International points out that the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights stipulate that business enterprises are responsible for preventing and addressing the risk of adverse impacts on human rights.  

The principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) are based on three pillars: protection, respect and remedy. These principles embody the standards to which firms should adhere to ensure their business practices do not violate human rights. To comply, corporations must adopt specific procedures and processes to institutionalize due diligence, monitoring and remediation.

ImpACT International for Human Rights Policies is conducting a study on the extent to which the biggest Saudi companies respect the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which were endorsed by the Human Rights Council in 2011. The study includes 11 Saudi companies so far and the organization will publish the results soon.  

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