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Thursday, July 25, 2024

‘Forced labour’ claims against NUFC sponsor

Workers at Newcastle United sponsor Noon have experienced “conditions that may amount to forced labour”, a human rights organisation has alleged.

According to a research released this week by Equidem, people directly and indirectly employed by the online retailer in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have described being subjected to intimidation and threats, withholding of wages, and “abusive” conditions.

Noon has been Newcastle United’s shirt sleeve sponsor since 2022 and the company’s name appears on the Magpies’ new Adidas kit for the 2024/25 season.

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), the football club’s majority owner, is also the 50% owner of Noon.

The company, which is also partnered with Premier League champions Manchester City, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) that Equidem’s allegations were “grossly inaccurate”.

Equidem said that its investigators had spoken to 47 current and former Noon workers since March this year and uncovered “indicators of forced labour and modern slavery – including abuse of vulnerability, deception, restriction of movement, intimidation and threats, retention of identity documents, withholding of wages, debt bondage, abusive working conditions, and unpaid overtime”.

The human rights organisation said the findings “raise significant concern that NUFC and the Premier League are failing their obligations under the UK Modern Slavery Act”.

Newcastle United declined to comment when contacted by the LDRS. The club’s website states that it has “zero tolerance to slavery and human trafficking” and a “commitment to acting ethically and with integrity in all our business relationships and to implementing and enforcing effective systems and controls to ensure slavery and human trafficking is not taking place anywhere in our supply chains”.

Equidem’s report includes testimony from a worker identified as Ramesh, a delivery associate from India hired by a subcontractor for Noon in Saudi Arabia, who claimed to have had his salary deducted for completing less than 20 deliveries and was “abused and threatened” by a manager.

Ramesh, whose name has been changed to protect their identity, said: “After that I talked about leaving the job and said that I need a transfer letter. He told me that you cannot leave the job without my consent, otherwise I will send you to jail. He kept all my documents.”

One warehouse worker described working “continuously for 12 hours a day, on standing duty, without a break, like a machine”.

And a Ugandan delivery worker contracted by Noon in the UAE said they had become ill as a result of “walking too much in the heat” and “didn’t even get time to eat because I was running to deliver packages”.

Equidem said that the investigation should “raise alarm bells” and that Noon’s name being emblazoned on Newcastle strips was an “ever-present reminder of their sponsor whose business practices stand in stark violation of  NUFC’s statement on modern slavery”.

Noon, which is one of the largest online retail platforms in the Middle East, has emphatically denied the allegations. A spokesperson said: “noon strongly refutes these allegations as grossly inaccurate misrepresentations. The company’s commitment to employee welfare is fundamental to its operations.  As a result, noon adheres to, and where possible exceeds, industry global best practices.

“The company maintains full compliance with local health and safety standards and applicable laws, reinforced by stringent internal and independent audit processes. Importantly our entire approach to employee welfare is underpinned by real time insights from our state of the art data systems.”

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