Corporate Exploitation of Syrian Refugees Masked as Humanitarianism

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

In February 2016, an article published by AlterNet warned of the World Bank’s dangerous private enterprise solution to the Syrian displacement crisis. Behind the facade of humanitarian aid, the World Bank is leading western corporations to invest in new establishments in Jordan as a means to profit from the labor of millions of Syrian refugees stranded there. Jordan is a country where migrant workers have been subjected to forced labor, wage theft, and torture, which raises concerns that this capitalist approach to solving the displacement crisis is a ploy to establish sweat shops and the hyper-exploitation of war refugees.

The Middle East currently has the highest concentration of displaced people, 95 percent of which were uprooted from Syria and now reside in Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt and Jordan. An estimated 1.4 million Syrian refugees reside in Jordan alone, making up well over a tenth of the population. These large numbers are attractive to the World Bank and western corporations, and present opportunities for exploitation under the guise of humanitarianism. It is easy to exploit Syrian refugees’ rights, and difficult for those refugees to complain against their employer as they are only loosely protected by Better Work–Jordan, a joint program of the International Labor Organization and IFC, which have no real enforcement power, so “serious labor rights abuses often continue for years in factories covered by the program” (Lazare).

This issue is under-reported in popular and corporate media, and Syria specifically is given minimal representation. One such article, published in September 2015 in the Wall Street Journal, titled “The Growth of Refugee Inc. in Europe”, reported on the number of small businesses and large corporations that have tried to find ways to profit from the flood of migrants. However, the article only mentioned Syrians that had migrated to European countries, such as a group awaiting approval for employment in a three-star hotel. This coverage does not address fraudulent humanitarianism that victimizes refugees in countries such as Jordan, outside of Europe, or the role of the World Bank, as addressed in the Sarah Lazare’s report for AlterNet.

Source: Sarah Lazare, “World Bank Woos Western Corporations to Profit From Labor of Stranded Syrian Refugees,” AlterNet, February 24, 2016,

Student Researcher: Sean Donnelly (Citrus College)

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Citrus College)