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20 Oct 2019

UAE and Migrant Workers’ Rights: One year to Expo 2020

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With one year to go until Expo 2020 Dubai, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre launches a snapshot of the construction sector in the UAE and risks to the rights of migrant workers. 

Read the snapshot here

The emirate of Dubai hopes Expo 2020 will attract an estimated 25 million visitors, stipulate its economic growth and improve its public image. Yet 12 months ahead of the Expo’s launch, migrant workers in the UAE continue to suffer exploitation and abuse including late or non-payment of wages, curbs on their mobility, unsafe working conditions and heat stress.  

Construction workers, who represent an estimated 34% of the total workforce in the UAE, are among the most vulnerable as construction companies fail to safeguard migrant workers rights. The snapshot finds that 62 new construction projects awarded since January 2018 went to companies that have failed to disclose how they protect migrant workers.  

The snapshot also finds that the UAE government has a big role in awarding construction projects, with $25.3 billion - 66% of the contracts (by monetary value) - since January 2018 awarded by government-linked clients. The snapshot closes with guidance to clients, companies and investors on advancing migrant worker rights.  

Diana Eltahawy, Gulf Programme Manager at Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, said:

“The Expo 2020 provides an opportunity to achieve lasting improvements in migrant workers’ welfare in the UAE beyond the coming period of international attention.  

“Migrant workers make up around 90% of 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.

“The construction industry – from the UAE government as a major client to companies and investors - has a responsibility to carry out human rights due diligence to safeguard the rights of all the workers in its supply chains.

“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, migrants 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. ”

For more on this project visit the Gulf Investments Tracker here.