Most people know Dubai for its massive skyscrapers and luxurious hotels, but few know that the city was built by modern-day slaves. Human rights in Dubai are based on the Constitution and enacted law, which do address many of the concerns of human rights organizations. For example, the Constitution promises equitable treatment of all people, regardless of race, nationality or social status, per Article 25 of the Constitution of the United Arab Emirates. In contrast to other nations in the region, there is also a significant degree of both press and religious freedom. However, many human rights complaints have been reported upon. Most notably, of the 250,000 foreign laborers in the city live in conditions described by Human Rights Watch as being “less than human.” NPR reports that workers “typically live eight to a room, sending home a portion of their salary to their families, whom they don’t see for years at a time.”
The BBC has reported that “local newspapers often carry stories of construction workers allegedly not being paid for months on end. They are not allowed to move jobs and if they leave the country to go home they will almost certainly lose the money they say they are owed.” Additionally, most of the workers are forced to give up their passports upon entering Dubai, making it very difficult to return home.
In 2005, the Minister of Labour ordered one company to pay unpaid salaries within 24 hours after workers protested, and published the name of the offending company. In 2005, the Indian consulate in Dubai submitted a report to the Government of India detailing labor problems faced by Indian expatriates in the emirate.
The report highlighted delayed payment of wages, substitution of employment contracts, premature termination of services and excessive working hours as being some of the challenges faced by Indian workers in the city. On 2006, workers at the construction site of Burj Khalifa, upset over bus timings and working conditions, rioted: damaging cars, offices, computers, and construction tools.
The city’s discriminatory legal system and unequal treatment of foreigners has been brought to light by its alleged attempts to cover up information on the rape of Alexandre Robert, a 15 year old French-Swiss national, by three locals, one of whose HIV-positive status was hidden by the authorities for several months and by the recent mass imprisonment of migrant laborers, most of whom were from India, on account of their protests against poor wages and living conditions. Despite protests by Human Rights Watch and several governments, companies continue to take the passports of workers and refuse to pay promised salaries.
These practices have been labeled as modern slavery by numerous organizations. The alleged labour injustices in Dubai have attracted the attention of various Human Rights groups, which have tried to persuade the government to become a signatory to two of the International Labour Organization’s 7 core conventions, which allows for the formation of labour unions.
The Dubai government has denied any kind of labour injustices and has stated that the watchdog’s (Human Rights Watch) accusations were misguided. Towards in 2006, the government announced steps to allow construction unions.
UAE labour minister Ali al-Kaabi said: “Labourers will be allowed to form unions.” Islam is the official religion in Dubai and thus traditional Islamic morality lays the foundation for the judicial system and its laws. A policy of religious toleration generally allows foreigners to practice their faith in a private residence or they can petition the government for a land grant and permission to build a religious institution to hold religious services, which may be a slow process. A few Christian Churches and hospitals do exist, along with some facilities for Hindus, Sikhs and Bahai. Non-Muslim groups are generally allowed to meet and advertise their events, but the law prohibits and harshly punishes proselytizing. We absolutely agree that those in charge of Dubai are fiercely intelligent.
And they are also very conscious of and invested in what makes the West tick — financially, culturally, socially. We believe the Emiratis are acutely aware of labor conditions and how the perception of same makes their city look to outsiders. But so far, they can’t quite quantify how bad press affects business. Dubai has been floating on a cloud of great media attention for a decade, and the scattered hit pieces, either justified or driven by schadenfreude, don’t seem to have made much of a dent in the city’s prospects. What really needs to change, of course, is the Emirati’s treatment of the people who built and continue to build their city.
Playing to the Western vulnerability to cultural relativism isn’t going to cut it anymore. No one expects a transformation to democracy from this mostly benevolent autocracy. But it’s time to stop pretending it’s just a different way of working, when everything else about Dubai strains toward the leading edge of modernity. We are fans of Dubai and what the regime is trying to accomplish; We admire the compulsion for advancement, we love big cities, and we have the vulgarian’s affection for gigantic, amazing projects. But not if they’re erected on the backs of people suffering. Watching the videos bellow you will understand what we are talking about. So we invite Sheik Al Maktoum to pay attention also on this issues too. He is an intelligent person so we really hope he will act as soon. A great nation and a beautiful country is made first of all by the people and just secondly by the buildings.