Emirates Leaks

ImpACT addresses the UAE’s negligence towards migrant workers in time for the Dubai Expo 2020

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In light of the upcoming international fair, Dubai Expo 2020, being hosted from October 2021 until March 2022, ImpACT International for Human Rights Policies finds that the rights of migrant workers in the UAE continue to deteriorate at an alarming pace. As the UAE elevates its construction projects and investments in international companies, migrant workers paying the price are left voiceless and very often in danger for their lives.

A new report released by ImpACT International thoroughly examines the different aspects of the UAE’s labour practices and laws that have specifically harmed the rights and lives of migrant workers, most of whom are of South Asian origin. These factors include the vicious Kafala System, inequality of labour rights and inaccessibility to health care facilities. With only four months left until the international fair opens its doors to an estimated 25 million people, it is essential that the labour violations under contracted construction companies be addressed.

According to the United Nations General Principles (UNGP’s), businesses hold the responsibility to identify, prevent, mitigate and remedy human rights abuses. Yet, what can be seen in the UAE is quite the opposite. Businesses and construction companies coerce workers into signing untranslated documents, confiscate their passports, expose workers to extreme working hours under unsafe weather conditions and provide them with unsanitary living accommodation. All of which should not be tolerated.

The report addresses some of the companies that have been given building contracts in time for the Expo in October, such as German firm Koelnmesse, Transguard Group, Al Arif Contracting Company, Arabtec and BinLaden group. The reality lies in that these companies, alongside many others, have not implemented adequate labour policies and human rights due diligence plans, leading them to turn a blind eye to the well-being of many of their migrant workers. In addition to this, the report sheds light on one of the most important issues during the construction process for the exhibition’s infrastructure which is heat stress and health issues related to heat. Migrant workers for construction firms are exposed to unbearable levels of heat, leading to many deaths and heart-related health issues.

Working in the UAE destroyed my expectations, with unpaid wages and the inability to pay for my own food

– A migrant worker in the UAE

ImpACT has interviewed workers in order to voice their personal experiences with the inhumane labour practices in the UAE. One of these workers explained that working in the UAE destroyed his expectations, with unpaid wages and the inability to pay for his own food, the reality for many migrant workers is harsh. Another interviewee discussed their limited access to healthcare, medicine and their ability to claim sick leave. All of the information provided further emphasised the scarce amount of facilities health care facilities workers have access to. In addition to this, there remains that underlying issue of the Kafala (Sponsorship) system that encapsulates workers and keeps them in a vicious cycle of labour exploitation, this, in turn, prevents many from being able to exit the country or visit family members.

ImpACT International for Human Rights Policies strongly believes that Dubai Expo 2020 is an important event for the UAE to address these labour rights violations that have been shadowing the lives of migrant workers.

With around 190 countries attending the event, there is no better opportunity to positively influence and encourage companies to implement human rights due diligence into their daily operations. With this report, suggestions on how this issue should be addressed have been provided for; governments, investors, clients and companies, to ensure that the lives of workers do not continue to be ignored for the luxury of others.