Even as stories of hardships and kindness amid the coronavirus pandemic are both breaking and winning hearts across the world, stories of racism have also been on the rise. A recent incident was a promotional act initiated by Saudi Arabian oil company Aramco, which is facing flak for dressing up an immigrant employee in the garb of a humanoid hand-sanitizer deployer.
The company was accused of racism and exploitation after images of a non-Saudi man wearing a bodysuit to look like a walking-talking bottle of hand-sanitizer went viral. The man was seen wearing a mask and the bottle of hand sanitiser on his body and walking outside one of Aramco's offices, dispensing the liquid to passersby. Though the image was not geo-tagged, netizens allege the image was from the company's Dhahran office.
The image evoked instant outrage with many calling the stunt racist. Many slammed Aramco for the "humiliating" job given to the worker and called the incident "dehumanizing" and akin to "modern-day slavery". A Saudi user termed the incident "Gulf classism. A gift from Aramco".
The humiliation & rendering of some lives as disposable apparently has no bounds. Aramco’s apology should be noted but the fact that someone in leadership thought this was appropriate to begin with speaks volumes about the public perception of migrant workers in the gulf. https://t.co/HOD21jjsxI— Laya Behbahani (@LayaBehbahani) March 11, 2020
Picture portraying modern day slavery!Saudi’s oil company @Saudi_Aramco shows an Indian employee dressed up as a mobile hand sanitizer. pic.twitter.com/eG40niLkI7— Girish Bharadwaj (@Girishvhp) March 11, 2020
Slavery was never abolished here, just repackaged. https://t.co/W1gFWeWLVl— Naser (@NaserMestarihi) March 10, 2020
طبقية خليجية اهداء من أرامكو pic.twitter.com/FpWsUNw7mE— هشام فقيه (@HishamFageeh) March 10, 2020
coronavirus has really brought out some disgusting classism and racism :( https://t.co/M6riaZkmFQ— Ruqaiya (@ruqaiya_h) March 10, 2020
In fact, on Tuesday, the state-owned oil baron apologised for the "abusive" incident and explained that their only intention was to raise awareness about coronavirus.
وقد قامت الشركة على الفور بإيقاف هذا الفعل واتخاذ إجراءات صارمة تحول دون تكراره. وتؤكّد الشركة حزمها ضد المساس بقيمها المبنية على الاحترام والتمسك بأخلاقيات السلوك والتعامل.— أرامكو (@Saudi_Aramco) March 10, 2020
Saudi Arabia’s state oil company @Aramco has finally apologized for turning a migrant worker into a 'walking hand sanitizer' at its HQ. #حرام pic.twitter.com/aaTlHPaQ0p— Ahmed Shihab-Eldin (@ASE) March 11, 2020
"The company immediately stopped this act and took drastic measures to prevent it from happening again," Aramco wrote on Twitter. "The company emphasizes its firm against compromising its values based on respect and adherence to ethics and conduct".
Many, however, noted that the man in the hand-sanitizer bottle suit was no different than human billboards that were common across countries like the United States others.
This act was condemned and the person who behind this was punished and this was the first time happened in Saudi Arabia, what is your opinion about HUMAN BILLBOARDS which is common around the world?? Your definition of democracy and criticism is DISGUSTING, #Aramco #SaudiArabia pic.twitter.com/Za0lsQjN4k— Hammad (@Haanazi00) March 11, 2020
I guess if he was made to wear a Disney Mascot costume it would been an instant hit!! It's all about presentation folks!! Learn from Americans!!— Gokul (@Gkhyenn) March 11, 2020
Despite the apology, some netizens were not convinced and said that Aramco needed to apologise not to its followers on social media but the employee himself who was made to do the dehumanising job.
لاتعتذروا لنا اعتذروا من الشخص نفسه وكرموه وانشروا صور تكريمه ،،، وصاحب الفكره اللي ماخاف ربي ولا احترم العامل لبسوه التعقيم وخلوه يلف الشركه يوم كامل . pic.twitter.com/rsCEadk9Dy— خـالـد (@khaled_alsahmi) March 10, 2020