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Migrant workers continue to face risks in Dubai, one year ahead of Expo 2020

Business and Human Rights Resource Centre says billions of dollars given to companies with links to UAE government
The UAE has the second largest migrant worker population in the Gulf after Saudi Arabia with most workers coming from the South Asian and African countries (AFP)

Several construction firms that have failed to disclose how they are protecting migrant workers in the United Arab Emirates have been contracted by the Emirati government to build infrastructure in the Gulf Kingdom, a year before Expo 2020 is set to take place in Dubai, according to an advocacy group.

Analysis by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) showed that companies who have failed to disclose were given 62 building projects worth billions of dollars by the Emiratis. 

At least two construction groups - the Al-Arif group and Saudi-owned Bin Laden group - have been given contracts for construction in Dubai despite having been accused of abusing migrant workers. 

Among the claims levied against the construction companies are confiscation of passports, late payment of wages, unsafe working conditions and workers being forced to live in poor conditions.

While other companies listed by BHRRC are at risk of such abuses due to gaps in their policies.

Analysis by the BHRRC also shows that since January 2018, 66 per cent of the new projects, which are worth $25.3 bn, were awarded by UAE government-linked clients.

With Expo 2020 set to launch in a year's time, the BHRRC fears Dubai's failure to vet particular construction groups will lead to further abuses of migrant workers, prompting calls on the UAE to take responsibility and act against human rights violations.

Ernst and Young predict that Dubai's economy will grow by $33 billion because of Expo 2020 (AFP)
Ernst and Young predict that Dubai's economy will grow by $33 billion because of Expo 2020 (AFP)

The international fair, set to last over six months, will showcase the UAE to the world with the Dubai government investing $7bn for infrastructure alone.

Forecasts from Ernst and Young also indicate that the UAE could receive a $33bn boost to its economy because of Expo 2020.

Diana Eltahawy, Gulf programme manager at BHRRC, said the migrant workers helping build Expo 2020 "must benefit" from economic growth gained by the fair.

“As Dubai sets the stage for the ‘World’s Greatest Show’, which it hopes will improve its public image and contribute to its economic growth, migrant workers who make it all possible must also benefit, starting with being afforded their most basic rights to timely and fair wages, to freedom of movement, and to work and live in safe and dignified conditions,” Eltahawy said in a statement. 

“Migrant workers make up around 90 percent of the UAE’s workforce. Yet despite 2017’s labour reforms, migrant workers remain tied to the kafala (sponsorship) system and are denied collective bargaining rights, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse."

Eltahawy said the Emirati government, as a major client to companies and investors in the construction industry, has a responsibility to protect the rights of all workers.

The UAE has the second largest migrant worker population in the Gulf after Saudi Arabia, with most workers coming from South Asian and African countries.