Published on : Friday, November 10, 2017
Sir Richard Branson has been accused of insincerity and hypocrisy after investing in a luxury tourism project in Saudi Arabia despite his track record of speaking out against human rights abuses in the country and abuse of labour power in the world.
The Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson has backed a project to develop around 50 islands over a 34,000 sq km (13,127 sq miles) stretch of the Red Sea, creating an estimated 35,000 jobs.
But human rights campaigners are concerned that work on the project is likely to be carried out by migrant labour from Asia working under the kafala system, which has been likened to slavery.
Under kafala work system, the workers brought to the Middle East from Asian countries like India are bound to their employers and cannot leave a job without the permission of their bosses. In some cases, passports and wages are withheld by employers.
Richard Branson, who has been vocal about ending modern-day slavery, has criticised Saudi Arabia over its human rights record.
The British billionaire said last year that in some countries like Saudi Arabia, enforced disappearances and unlawful prosecution are just two of the most serious ways in which the right to speak out peacefully without discrimination is being violated.
Nicholas McGeehan, an expert on migrant workers in the Gulf region and former researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said Branson was guilty of “gratuitous, self-serving hypocrisy”.
Nicholas McGeehan said that he may take a little bump on his standing for getting into bed with the Saudis, but clearly a billion dollars is a cost worth paying for it.
Human Rights Watch spokesman Adam Coogle said that whether investment with the Saudis is enabling the abuse and I think from migrants you could really see how that could be possible.
If he doesn’t engage meaningfully on this issue he could open himself up to accusations of hypocrisy, namely that he doesn’t get assurances that the work he’s involved with is not free of migrant abuse.
A Virgin spokesman said that they have debated at length which the best approach is: to confront and boycott or to engage and seek dialogue.
Virgin will see merit in both but they found that they had greater success with the latter.
His support follows the corroboration from Saudi Arabia last month that it plans to invest $1bn (£762m) in the Virgin space companies.