Report details labor rights abuses at Dubai’s Expo

A London-based labor rights group says the migrant workers involved in Expo 2020 in Dubai are subjected to labor abuse and exploitation. STORY-LINE: The legions of workers who built Dubai’s extravagant Expo 2020 site and keep it running face exploitation, grim conditions and a wide range of labor abuses, according to a new report released on Wednesday by a London-based labor rights group. The report by consultancy Equidem also said that the United Arab Emirates government had failed to demonstrate that its commitments to worker welfare at the multibillion-dollar Expo had corrected, let alone identified, rights violations. It comes after The Associated Press published an investigation based on interviews with over two dozen Expo workers about their grievances, including their payment of illegal recruitment fees, employers’ confiscation of passports and inadequate food. That article also drew on Equidem’s previous research into the conditions of construction workers a year before the world’s fair opened, when workers said they were denied wages for months amid the virus outbreak. The report “finds that migrant workers across sectors are being subjected to racial discrimination and forced labor,” said Mustafa Qadri, an author of the Equidem report and the group’s executive director. They are “really quite shocking findings that have taken us six months of really difficult, challenging circumstances of investigation to uncover,” he added. Expo organizers did not respond to requests for comment about the report. Emirati authorities also did not respond to requests for comment. The 37-page Equidem report, based on nearly 70 interviews with migrant workers at Expo over three months last fall, represents a comprehensive analysis of the labor situation at the world’s fair. The giant international event has offered the UAE a key opportunity to burnish its credentials as a globalized place attractive to tourists and investors. Undergirding the machinery of daily life is the country’s labor sponsorship system, which employs millions of low-paid workers from Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia and long has drawn accusations of mistreatment for failing to ensure fair wages, hours and living conditions. The Equidem report said the majority of workers interviewed were forced to pay illegal recruitment fees to get their jobs, often exceeding their monthly pay. The report documented workers who were not provided with employment contracts or could not read them because they were not translated into their native languages, as required by law. Some received partial pay or had to wait over a week to receive their wages each month, which included their food allowance. Workers were frequently denied overtime pay, termination benefits and promised bonuses. Employers in some cases slashed salaries up to 75% as the pandemic battered the economy, workers alleged. Most workers interviewed surrendered their passports to their employers and none of them could unconditionally retrieve them, despite Emirati laws that forbid companies from confiscating worker’s identity documents. Workers also said they were targets of discrimination, describing how their race dictated their treatment and duties on site. Racism remains a deeply rooted issue in the UAE, where slavery was not formally abolished until the 1960s and dark-skinned workers from Africa and South Asia routinely report receiving lower wages than their light-skinned colleagues today. Forming unions and mobilizing for better treatment remains criminalized in the autocratic UAE.