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Press Release

Germany’s Dubai Expo Pavilion engages security and cleaning company linked to serious migrant worker abuse allegations

The German Pavilion has signed a framework agreement with Transguard to provide security, cleaning and laundry services during the Dubai Expo, an event set to attract 25 million visitors when it opens in October 2021.

Last year Transguard was the subject of serious allegations of abuse against migrant workers during the pandemic. When approached by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre for a response, Koelnmesse, the company contracted to run and organise the German Pavilion, did not provide satisfactory evidence of effective human rights due diligence prior to contracting Transguard.

Reports published by NGOs Migrant-Rights.org and Equidem in September and November 2020, and by The Nation in October 2020, allege Transguard workers paid recruitment fees and also reported concerns regarding withheld passports, unpaid wages, below minimum wages, inadequate PPE and lack of testing during the COVID-19 pandemic, plus forced contract changes, terminations with no notice and deductions from end-of-service benefits. Transguard has denied non-compliance with labour law in the Migrant-Rights.org’s report and in response to Equidem.

Isobel Archer, Gulf Programme Manager at the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre said: “It is concerning that as the German parliament prepares to adopt a milestone human rights due diligence law at home, a German company overseas declines to set out what steps it took to ensure migrant worker rights would be protected. Koelnmesse has chosen to engage a company with a questionable human rights record, whose workers have repeatedly told human rights NGOs, activists and the media corroborating reports of their appalling treatment. All companies have a responsibility to conduct thorough, meaningful human rights due diligence when entering into contracts with business partners or service providers, and should be prepared to disclose safeguards to mitigate abuses.”

In October 2019, the Resource Centre released a briefing highlighting the risks to migrant workers in the UAE. The briefing calls on clients such as the Dubai Expo and German Pavilion to award contracts to companies with demonstrable commitments to labour rights, and for companies to adopt and enforce robust protections for migrant workers, including against many of the issues reported by Transguard workers.

//ENDS

Notes to editors

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre has been tracking cases of labour abuse in the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE), in which businesses are implicated since 2016. Our Allegations Tracker records publicly reported cases of human and labour rights abuse committed by businesses against migrant workers in the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. Our methodology can be found here and a discussion of the challenges and limitations of allegations tracking here.

Between January 2016 and April 2021, the Resource Centre recorded 164 allegations made against companies in the United Arab Emirates, representing 36% of the total reported by workers across the GCC and impacting at least 26,887 workers. Half (49%) of the reports were made by workers located in 2021 Expo-host Dubai and 25% in Abu Dhabi. During the year since the COVID-19 crisis reached the Gulf, reports by workers in the UAE increased 366% to 106 from 29 on the previous year. The pandemic has been cited in 84% cases since March 2020 as a key or causal factor in their abuse.

These numbers are based on publicly reported allegations of labour rights abuse against migrant workers in the GCC countries; the actual numbers of incidents of abuse and affected migrant workers are believed to be higher.

The following abuses were cited in the tracked cases:

Abuse No. cases %
Violations of conditions of employment 124 76
Arbitrary denial of freedoms 70 43
Occupational health & safety violations 65 40
Poor/ inhumane living conditions 94 57
Verbal or physical abuse 17 10
Modern slavery, forced labour, human trafficking 6 4
Injuries 6 4
Deaths 7 4

The following sectors are most frequently recorded in the cases:

Sector No. cases %
Construction & engineering 38 23
Hospitality 13 8
Security & logistics 9 5
Transport 8 5
Cleaning & maintenance 5 3

About the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is an international NGO that tracks the human rights impacts (positive and negative) of more than 10,000 companies across nearly 200 countries. We seek responses from companies when concerns are raised by civil society.

Media contact: Priyanka Mogul (London-based), Media Officer, Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, +44 (0) 7880 956239, [email protected]