A company recruiting flight attendants for Kuwait Airways rejected candidates because of their skin colour and asked them to strip down to their underwear during the interview

La empresa seleccionaba tripulantes de cabina para Kuwait Airways.

On November 5, 2022, Bianca applied for a job as cabin crew for an airline. She received the call from the recruitment company Meccti, who claimed they were recruiting for Kuwait Airways. The process took place in a room at the Meliá Barajas hotel, very close to Madrid airport. Right from the beginning, the women attending were subjected to offensive comments. “We don't like your smile” and “your body looks like a roller coaster.” But the worst part of the process was yet to come. Once the recruiter had turned some of the applicants away, the remaining women were asked to enter a room, one at a time. There, in the presence of a woman, they were told to unbutton their shirts, and pull up their sweaters and skirts: they were told to strip down to their underwear so that the recruiter could examine their bodies, an illegal practice in Spain. elDiario.es has gathered the accounts of six women who attended the recruitment process and they all tell exactly the same story. 

María (not her real name), a Spanish woman of African descent, went through the whole process and was one of the candidates selected to work for the airline. She immediately began to prepare the documents they asked her for, and was also asked to include several photographs. Once she had sent Meccti all the documentation, Maria received a WhatsApp message, which elDiario.es has had access to, from the recruiter in charge of all the paperwork: “I regret to inform you that Kuwait Airways does not intend to hire dark-skinned cabin crew.”

Maria was then excluded from the selection process and informed as such. She was also removed from a WhatsApp group that the recruiter had set up, which included all the candidates who had passed the selection process in Madrid. In a personal message sent to Maria, the recruiter made it clear that this decision was made by the airline: “Kuwait Airways makes its own decision in this regard,” it reads. “I felt denigrated, discriminated against, like a commodity, this has really affected me,” Maria told elDiario.es, as a result of being excluded because of her race. 

Employment Inspectors are already looking into the selection process, which was carried out by the company Meccti, in Spain: “This is intolerable conduct that violates the dignity and fundamental rights of these women,” says the Secretary of State for Employment. The trade union Comisiones Obreras has submitted the details to the Public Prosecutor's Office so that “it proceeds to adopt all the measures and actions it deems appropriate and necessary in order to determine the criminal responsibilities that may have been incurred by the perpetrators of this process.”

Meccti, a company with several locations that does not disclose its country of origin, advertises its recruitment processes on social media. On its Instagram profile, you can consult its upcoming job offers, like the one they are currently promoting in Jakarta (Indonesia) in January, as well as past ones, such as the one that took place in Madrid on 5 November: it advertised the selection process for Kuwait Airways in which it also specified several requirements, such as “proportionate height and weight with a minimum height of 160 cm,” and “fit to work, willing to undergo a medical examination in Kuwait,” as well as “excellent overall appearance.”

Bianca, aged 23, is currently working for an airline for the third time. She found Meccti's job offer for Kuwait Airways on a specialised website. “I hoped to quit my current job and wanted to see if there was a chance to work for this company.” She sent her CV and received an invitation to attend the selection process. Her statement is backed up by documents that elDiario.es has had access to. On the day of the interview, she turned up at the hotel along with at least 60 other people, the vast majority of whom were women. They were met by two recruiters, a man and a woman. Beside the door to the hotel lobby, the candidates said that there were two screens, one larger one displaying the name Meccti, and a smaller one displaying the name of Kuwait Airways.

After a presentation about the airline and an overview of the industry, the first test involved conversing in English with the other applicants. “They rejected people who spoke excellent English, but were 37 years old. And people who had tattoos. There were only three boys, and they were told that they wouldn't hire men unless they were from Kuwait. One girl was even asked: 'If we asked you to eat more, would you eat more?' It was all said out loud, and unabashedly,” recalls Bianca.

The remaining applicants were asked to go, in alphabetical order and one at a time, into a room. “The first girl who went in came out crying and told us that they had made her take off most of her clothes. It was her first job interview. The others came out saying the same thing, I could hardly believe it, I was freaking out. But they weren't exaggerating,” she stresses.

When it was her turn, Bianca went into the room and the recruiter asked for her date of birth, her weight, her height and if she had any visible tattoos. “It was the second time I had been asked this question. Then she asked me to pull up my dress. I pulled it up a bit, so it was just below my knee, and she pulled it up to my knickers. The dress had a zip on the back and she asked me to pull it all the way down to my waist and stand in my bra. She said that it was to make sure we didn't have any scars, birthmarks or tattoos. She kept turning around and staring at my body in an exaggerated way,” she describes.

elDiario.es has attempted to contact both Meccti and Kuwait Airways for weeks without success by phone, by email, on social media and even through the Kuwaiti embassy in Madrid. After the information was published, Meccti issued a statement through the law firm Molins Defensa Penal, in which it discredited the testimonies revealed by elDiario.es and threatened to take legal action against anyone who continued to share them. However, the following day, following a new publication by elDiario.es, Meccti announced an internal investigation and attributed any possible responsibility to a Morocco-based subcontractor, Meiservices Sarl.

Meccti insists that this third company was responsible for the recruitment process in Madrid. The documents that elDiario.es has accessed show that the emails received by the candidates confirming that they had been admitted to the recruitment process in Madrid were sent by an email address from RecruitCabinCrew.com, a website linked to Meccti, and are signed off by 'Meccti Morocco'. This is the same email address that was used to send the statement from Meiservices Sarl.

“He asked me to open my mouth and looked at my teeth.”

Bianca's account coincides with that of 23-year-old Mariana. She obtained her cabin crew licence last year but has not yet worked for an airline. “I saw the advert on a website for cabin crew, checked that I met the minimum entry requirements and applied.” A few weeks later she received an email saying she had been shortlisted for the 5 December process in Madrid. Once in the room at the event, the recruiter introduced himself as a representative of the company Meccti and emphasised that he was recruiting for Kuwait Airways.

“He told us that in another process one of the girls not selected had posted a Tiktok video complaining, and he said that if we had any problems we should email them directly,” she says. “One girl who spoke seven languages was rejected because she had a tiny scar on her eyebrow. He told her that he didn't care about her seven languages, that they don't take people with scars. Another was told she couldn't continue because of the moles on her face. Another was told she was a bit chubby. Another was rejected because she had glasses and braces, another because he didn't like her skin or her smile,” explains Mariana, who recalls how all the questions and references to the candidates' weight were constant and spoken out loud, in front of all the others.

Mariana got through to the test which involved going into a room one by one. “I was one of the last ones, and I saw a lot of people coming out with their shirts half open, still buttoning them up, or with their dresses partially pulled down or their skirts hiked up.” The recruiter asked her to stand against the wall to measure her. “He started going in and out of the room and measured me again. He said ”you have marks on your face, I don't like them.“ I rubbed my face so he could see it was make-up and then he asked me to smile and looked inside and outside my mouth to check my teeth. He also asked me if I could take my glasses off, saying they didn't usually hire people with glasses.”

Finally, she was asked to go to the back of the room, where the female recruiter, now alone, pulled up her skirt. “She asked me if she could unbutton the top of my shirt. She touched my arm to tell me to take it off. I was left in my bra, skirt and tights. She examined my arms, she looked at me from the front and the back. You feel like a zoo animal. She was taking notes in a notebook.”

The applicant, who has taken part in recruitment processes for other airlines, says that nothing like this has ever happened to her before. Mariana made it to the final English test, but did not pass. “Nobody knew exactly how well you had to do.”

Maria, 19, was also asked by the recruiter to take her blouse and trousers off so they could examine her body. “Then she led me over to a wall where there was a tape measure for measuring me, and she asked me how much I weighed. They check if you weigh the right amount for your height. They also made me open my mouth to look at my teeth.”

During the exam, the coach saw a small scar on her forehead: “They put me under a light to look at it, because it is very small. She told me that if I wanted to enter I had to have it removed with a laser. I said yes, but there was no way I was actually going to do it.” In any case, Maria, Bianca and Mariana were rejected.

The irregularities during the process did not end with the interviews and the examination of the candidates' bodies. The recruiter told them that, if they were selected, they would have to pay 1,900 euros. “He told us that they were going to invest a lot of money in us and they needed a guarantee that we would continue if we were chosen,” explains Mariana. Two other participants in the selection process also confirm this. According to what they were told, the money was going to cover part of the cost of training, travel to Kuwait and initial accommodation. “But he also told us that if we went ahead and started working for them, we wouldn't have to spend anything, that we'd only make a profit,” recalls Mariana.

On its website, Meccti describes itself as a “leading provider of recruitment and training services for international airlines”. It boasts that it has recruited cabin crew and pilots “from all over the world.” “Our company specialises in working with each partner to develop a customised strategy and solutions tailored to the organisation's specific needs,” they say. From what they say, the company was founded in 1997 under the name Middle East Cabin Crew Training International. Its website lists a number of airline partners, including Kuwait Airways, Qatar Airways, Etihad, Saudi Arabian Airlines and Spice Jet.

Two other women confirm that they were treated in the same way. Renata, 26, travelled from Portugal, where she lives. “I was one of the last to go in. I remember seeing two girls very upset, crying,” she says. When she went into the room and the recruiter asked her to go over to the wall to measure her, she was rejected: “She told me I was two centimetres too short. She also recalls some of the comments she heard during the process, ”one girl was not chosen because she had acne, others were told it was because of their weight.“

Irene (not her real name), 24, got as far as the individual exam, in which the recruiter asked her if she had tattoos or piercings and asked her to lift her skirt up: “I lifted it up to my knee and without saying anything she grabbed it and lifted it up to my knickers.” She was one of the successful candidates but, due to the way she was treated, she decided to withdraw.

“I saw girls coming out of there looking scared. One said they made her take off her trousers and she came out crying. The recruiter saw a bruise on Irene's knee. ”She asked me when I was going to get rid of it,“ she says. ”She told me to unbutton my shirt and I said 'is that necessary?' and she said yes, she had to check that I didn't have any tattoos. I have a birthmark on my arm and she said 'can't you remove that?' I said 'yes, it's a birthmark',“ continues Irene, as she recalls how the woman circled her to examine her fully.

Irene took the last exam, which consisted of an English test and a maths test. “They told me that I had passed the test, that I 'only' had to remove my birthmark and lose three kilos by January, but I told them I didn't want to work for them. If they treated us like that in Spain, I don't want to imagine how they might treat us later,” she says.


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