Sunday, April 2

Complaints of labor exploitation at the Dubai World Expo

Migrant workers – security guards, cleaning staff and hospitality staff – from Expo 2020 Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) work in abusive conditions, which could amount to forced labour, a human rights group has documented.

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Employees at the United Arab Emirates (UAE) World Expo, which is running late due to the COVID-19 pandemic, allege they have been forced to pay illegal recruitment fees, suffered racial discrimination and been has withheld their salary and confiscated their passport, according to a report from Equidema non-profit organization that defends the rights of workers.

Known as “the greatest show on earth”, Expo 2020 is home to 192 national pavilions showcasing the latest ideas in technology and sustainability. Organizers expect 25 million visits throughout the fair, which opened in October 2021 and runs through March 2022. The event has attracted major corporate sponsors, global stars like, and influencers. . Visitors have been promised that “the next generation of human genius” will be present.

However, the Equidem report highlights the “major disconnect between the UAE’s stated ambition to be a modern and international country and the stark reality faced by migrant workers, who are targets of racial discrimination and of forced labour”.

The investigation claims that the UAE’s alleged lack of protection of migrant workers damages the reputation of the countries and companies participating in the event. In this sense, the director of Equidem, Mustafa Kadristates that “the entire international community is complicit in the exploitation at the Expo, it is scandalous”.

Recruitment fees and confiscated passports

Migrant workers, predominantly from the Indian subcontinent and various countries in Africa, make up more than 90% of the UAE’s private sector workforce. More than half of the 69 workers interviewed for the report said they paid recruitment fees in their own countries to get the job.

Many said their employers were aware of this but did not intervene or reimburse the fees. This practice, illegal in the UAE, often leaves workers with large debts.

Two-thirds of the migrant employees interviewed said their wages or other benefits were not always paid on time or in full, leaving some struggling to eat or send money home. “They promised me a salary increase after the trial period, something that has not happened to date… I have never received overtime pay from my employer… They treat us like slaves, I mean modern slavery,” says a worker in the hospitality sector.

Virtually all have stated that their passports are in the hands of their employers. Although most claim that you can retrieve them if you ask, this practice is illegal and can be used by some companies to control them.

One worker comments that his employer kept his passport, despite instructions from Expo management to return the workers’ documents: “The company made us sign a paper saying that we had received our passport. the office of the camp where we stayed”.

Although there was some evidence that working conditions at the Expo were generally better than elsewhere in the UAE, the findings reportedly reveal multiple breaches of Emirati labor law, as well as stricter welfare standards. of workers introduced to protect the rights of employees in the construction of the premises and in the provision of security and hospitality services.

months of warnings

Authorities in the UAE and participating countries have been repeatedly warned about the risk of the Expo engaging in abusive practices. On the eve of its official opening in September 2021, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling on international companies sponsoring the event to withdraw and for a boycott by member states, citing human rights abuses in the UAE, including the arrest of the activist Ahmed Mansor and “widespread” abuse of immigrant workers.

The Arab Parliament rejected the accusations. In a statement he stated that: “The UAE is one of the leading countries in terms of human rights.” In October, Human Rights Watch described the Expo as an opportunity “for the UAE to falsely present itself on the world stage as a country that is open, tolerant and respectful of the rights of the population, while limiting the space for political participation, public discourse and activism”. The NGO urged governments and companies to “avoid contributing to the UAE authorities’ efforts to cover up their abuses.”

The UAE and Expo 2020 authorities have not responded to questions from The Guardian. The Expo 2020 website states: “We are committed to the health, safety, well-being and dignity of all workers.” Ensures that employee welfare standards are monitored through regular inspections of working and accommodation conditions.