By Maria Caspani
NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Actress and U.N. women's rights ambassador Nicole Kidman came under fire on Tuesday for her role as the face of Etihad Airways, the second-largest airline of the United Arab Emirates.
In an open letter to Kidman, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) criticized the Australian star for associating with a company with "abhorrent" policies for female employees, and for the country's poor track record on women's rights.
"The United Arab Emirates and their airlines are well-known in our industry for their discriminatory labor practices and deplorable treatment of female employees," said APFA's national president Laura R. Glading in the letter.
Citing a Wall Street Journal report, APFA, which represents some 25,000 professional flight attendants with American Airlines, said Etihad can fire female employees who become pregnant and has forced flight attendants to live in "confinement" in compounds.
APFA urged Kidman to terminate her professional partnership with Etihad, which began last month, saying it was at odds with her role as U.N. Women Goodwill ambassador, a position Kidman has held since 2006.
"Our commitment to the welfare, safety, and well-being of the diverse group of men and women who have worked so hard to make Etihad Airways great is one of our airline’s top priorities," Etihad said in a statement in response to the allegations.
"Contrary to counter claims, Etihad fully supports its cabin crew during and after their pregnancy," the airline said in the statement. "When a cabin crew member informs Etihad of a pregnancy, she is provided with appropriate ground duties for the duration of their pregnancy...She remains fully compensated and fully engaged on the ground."
The Abu Dhabi-based airline invited APFA members to meet its employees and visit its operations to "experience firsthand the Etihad Airways workplace and culture."
The APFA letter to Kidman comes at a time when leading U.S. airline firms, including American Airlines, United Continental Holdings and Delta Air Lines, are pushing for the federal government to curtail the expansion of Gulf airlines into the American market.
The U.S.-based carriers claim that Etihad and Emirates Airline, owned by the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar Airways, owned by the Qatari government, pose unfair competition due to hefty state subsidies, which the Gulf airlines deny.
Representatives for Kidman and U.N. Women didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.
(Reporting by Maria Caspani, Editing by Lisa Anderson)