Dubai Slavery – Why It’s Our Problem

Dubai is an increasingly fashionable destination of choice for many holiday-makers. Tourists flock to Dubai in their droves, eager to snap that perfect Instagram shot to show that they’re wealthy enough to drink bottomless flutes of Champagne and hang out in the most expensive hotel bars in the Emirates.

Dubai is especially popular with social media influencers, with young Instagram models returning to Dubai again and again to (allegedly) do all manner of things in exchange for their free holiday.

Around 16 million people visit Dubai every year (1.5 million of them being Brits) and with that number only increasing, the demand for bigger, better and blingier hotels is skyrocketing, with a staggering 168 hotel projects in the pipeline in Dubai alone.

However, despite Dubai marketing itself as a ‘fun in the sun’ Middle Eastern Las Vegas, where socialites and Sheikhs rub shoulders in exclusive nightclubs, there is a much darker side to Dubai that most tourists are blissfully unaware of.

You see, in addition to shocking human rights abuses, slavery in Dubai (as well as other Gulf states such as Qatar) is alive and thriving.

Some people balk when I use the term ‘Dubai slavery’ to describe the conditions endured by migrant workers in Dubai. However, let it be said that using the word ‘slavery’ is no exaggeration when it comes to the UAE.

In this article, I look into modern slavery in Dubai, how Dubai slave labour manifests, and how mass tourism is only increasing the demand for slaves.

Dubai Slavery – How Does it Affect You?

If you prefer, here’s me summarising this article in video form!

A euphemism frequently used for modern day slavery is ‘human trafficking.’ When most people think about human trafficking, they either imagine that it refers only to the actual transportation process of people from one place to another, or images of Liam Neeson’s Taken spring to mind.

However, human trafficking (i.e. modern day slavery) can take many forms, including forced labourwhich is what we see in the United Arab Emirates and Dubai.

More than 88.5% of UAE residents are foreign workers, with South Asian migrants constituting 42.5% of the UAE’s workforce.

These migrants, usually illiterate and from impoverished, rural communities in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, reply to advertisements offering them $300 a month, food and accommodation in return for manual labour, 9-5, five days a week.

Eager to move to Dubai and begin earning money that they can send home to their families, they take out loans of up to $3000 from unscrupulous recruitment agencies to pay the exorbitant ‘visa fees’ (which is actually illegal – the recruitment agencies are supposed to cover these fees) and board flights to Dubai, excited for a new life in the glitzy Emirate.

When they touch down in Dubai, however, it’s a different story. Driven to squalid shanty towns on the outskirts of Dubai, where 45 men share one outdoor bathroom and 10 or more people sleep in a room, their passports are confiscated and they are told that they will actually be working 14 hour days, 6 or 7 days a week, in the desert sun.

This, dear readers, is Dubai slavery.

Or at least, it’s the beginnings of it.

modern slavery in dubai

You see, treatment of migrant workers in Dubai gets worse. Much worse. Not only do they have to live in dreadful conditions, but the agreed-upon wages are almost never honoured.

With the average construction worker receiving just $175 a month (compared to the per capita income of $2106 a month), and wages often being withheld for months on end to ensure the worker doesn’t ‘quit,’ the migrant worker quickly realises that it will be years before he can even pay off his mounting debts to the recruiters, never mind begin sending money home.

This bonded labour, combined with living conditions described by the Human Rights Watch as being ‘less than humane,’ equates to a situation that can only be described as modern slavery in Dubai.

Without money or passports, these foreign workers have no way of returning home to their families and are forced to continue working in dangerous conditions, often without proper safety equipment, in the 50 degree heat.

This is Dubai slave labour.

slavery dubai

Why does slavery in Dubai flourish?

Part of what enables slavery in Dubai is the Kafala system

Kafala, which means ‘sponsorship’ in Arabic, with a sponsor being a kafeel, is a system popular in the Gulf countries that gives private citizens and companies the responsibility and oversight of workers (as opposed to the government, which is the case in other countries).

The Kafala system not only requires workers to receive permission from their employer if they wish to change jobs, but it also requires a minimum of two years working for the same person or company. This of course helps enable wage suppression as there is effectively no competition.

The workers’ exit visa is also under the control of their kafeelmeaning that the worker cannot leave the country without their employer’s permission

Of course, this in itself renders the system wide open to abuse and exploitation, with migrant workers in Dubai being at the total mercy of their employers (particularly in the case of vulnerable domestic workers), but in addition to that, the Kafala system provides no protection for the workers. 

The Kafala system does not allow workers to dispute employers’ non-performance of contracts, nor does it allow them to escape a potentially abusive situation. If a worker is caught trying to escape their employer then they are returned straight back to the same employer.

It is hard to deny that the kafala system puts the employer in a position not unlike a slave owner, with the worker helpless to change the situation. 

The Kafala system is so barbaric that even the official UAE Labour Law website acknowledges that ‘it puts workers in vulnerable situations where they are dependent on their employer, which often leads to exploitation and abuse with little ability to seek outside assistance.’ 

dubai slavery

What does all this have to do with tourism in Dubai?

A lot, actually. If it weren’t for the ever-increasing demand for more hotels, infinity pools, shopping malls and luxury apartments, there would be no need to employ such vast quantities of migrant workers.

With some of the current hotel projects boasting up to 1000 rooms which sell for hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of dollars a night, Dubai is constantly competing with itself to be the best, the biggest and the brashest, and all at the expense of its migrant workers.

Not only that, but if you thought that the only modern slaves in Dubai were construction workers, then think again.

In an investigation by Fair Action, the Swedish organisation found that out of 30 hotel staff members, only 2 had been able to hold on to their passports, leaving them trapped in Dubai and at the mercy of their employers.

All of the hotel staff members interviewed lived in squalid conditions and complained about being overworked, underpaid, and unable to leave or demand their passport back.

So then, if a holiday to Dubai involves staying in a hotel that is built by and staffed by slaves, why would anyone go?

I’d like to think that the answer is ignorance. That people simply aren’t aware of the conditions of modern slavery in Dubai, and aren’t intentionally spending their money on a system that exploits vulnerable people.

If this is the case, then a possible solution to this horrific practice would be to simply boycott Dubai and spread the word about the human rights abuses going on there to everyone you know.

Spend your money on more ethical holidays and refuse to play a part in enabling modern day slavery.

There are plenty of luxury hotels and modern cities that can offer a similar experience to Dubai but without the human cost.

Of course, with Dubai receiving 16 million tourists a year, it’s going to take more than one person to change anything, but it’s a start.

Singapore is a great alternative to Dubai

If we limit the demand for new hotels, we curb the need for the supply of fresh workers.

Unfortunately, however, I don’t believe that it is all down to ignorance. I believe that most visitors to the United Arab Emirates have an inclination of what is happening behind the scenes but simply choose not to see it.

I believe that most visitors to Dubai choose to consider these facts for a second, before shrugging their shoulders and saying ‘Well, at least it has nice hotels.’

I suppose as long as you can take a cute picture in front of the Burj Khalifa, it doesn’t really matter how much suffering is going on behind the scenes, right?

Have you ever been to Dubai? Do you think that it is a good travel destination to promote or do you think that we should be speaking out against modern slavery in Dubai and voting with our wallets by holidaying in alternative destinations? Please let me know your thoughts about tourism in Dubai in the comments below.

Further Reading

If you’re interested in learning more about slavery in Dubai and modern day slavery in general, I have put together a list of really useful books that you can buy from Amazon – just click the links to be taken to the pages!

Ending Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery – Freedom’s Journey

Modern Slavery – A Beginner’s Guide

Enslaved – True Stories of Modern Day Slavery

Human Rights in an Unequal World

You may also enjoy my other human rights articles:

Construction Workers in Dubai

Dubai Porta Potties – Instagram Models Exposed

Female Sex Tourism in The Gambia

The Truth About Thai Ping Pong Shows

Human Trafficking in The UK

The Truth About Honour Killing

Modern Slavery in Nail Salons

Modern Slavery in Car Washes

If you liked this article and would like to support my work, please click the button above to donate a couple of bucks and buy me a coffee. The ad revenue that I receive on this website is minimal, so support from my readers enables me to keep creating content that you (hopefully!) love to read.

Modern Slavery in Dubai - despite Dubai marketing itself as a 'fun in the sun' Middle Eastern Las Vegas, there is a much darker side to Dubai that most tourists are blissfully unaware of. In addition to shocking human rights abuses, the United Arab Emirates is actually an epicentre of modern day slavery. #dubai #dubaitravel #uae
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Modern Slavery in Dubai - despite Dubai marketing itself as a 'fun in the sun' Middle Eastern Las Vegas, there is a much darker side to Dubai that most tourists are blissfully unaware of. In addition to shocking human rights abuses, the United Arab Emirates is actually an epicentre of modern day slavery. #dubai #dubaitravel #uae
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87 thoughts on “Dubai Slavery – Why It’s Our Problem”

  1. There are worse facts when it comes to tourism in Dubai. I recently experienced prison , my story isn’t relevant, but the story of the girls they bring in and peg as prostitutes is disgusting. It involves filing deportation quotas, arrest quotas for ‘hookers’ and the simple cleansing of Dubai for 2020.

    Would you be interested in such a story?

    1. I see many job ads for foreign massage therapists in Private VIP residences on otherwise legit job boards. I would like to read an article on what happens to those foreign masseuses.

        1. In many of the gulf countries (Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, etc) women are not allowed to give massage to men and vice versa. However they advertise on websites and social media. Female to male and even male to female massage. These are all prostitutes. I’ve heard they will give regular massage of course but the people who do go through the troubles and risk of hiring them of course will not settle for a simple massage. They are almost always from poor countries. There are also a lot of prostitutes from neighboring war torn countries syria and yemen. Maids are brought in from asian country and used as sex slaves behind the backs of the families. they can not speak or leave because the consequence is harsher for them. Who will they believe, a praying muslim gulf arab man, or his main from a less conservative country?

          you should gather everyones stories and write an article… not many know about this in the west.

        2. To be honest, I would not want to center this around racism. But I recently found out a company that pays africans less salary while asians and other races are getting much more salary for doing same job. While these Africans only takes one off day every half of the month, other races takes their once every week. I was moved to tears. It should not have to be about people’s identity most times. But there’s little to what I can do to help. So sad 😭

      1. I think getting prostitutes is a way of life for men in the gulf countries sadly. Seems as if only the younger men or some men that married young have not had a prostitute. It is too common. Ask yourself, why is a country full of prostitutes. In countries like saudi arabia there are no tourists, so it is obvious they are for the saudis men. They also travel to UAE and bahrain to get prostitutes in a safer way. It is a real problem for the women, who are expected to be virgins at time of marriage, but they almost always marry a man that is not a virgin, and most likely have been with prostitutes. While the woman could be actually killed for not being a virgin, and sometimes even if she does not bleed on the wedding night. This is a big fear because even many virgin girls do not bleed, and if she doesnt she is in danger.

        Luckily, this is mostly the attitude of a different generation of men, who are around late 20’s and over. The younger men are different MOSTLY. Because things are changing so fast.

  2. Just spent 11 nights in Dubai, spoke to 8 hotel workers Waiters,bar staff etc,not management level.regularly during my stay. all have their passports ,all earn 3000 UAE monthly,April £750 a month tax free all food and board paid,live in their own appartments ,they come from poverish backround Philippines Kenya and Bangladesh, earn more in Dubai, all loved their work and lifestyles .your article is biased against Dubai to say the least

    1. I’m glad that you managed to find some people who aren’t being treated as slaves (assuming they were speaking freely as most are afraid to be honest about the way they are treated). However unfortunately the stats and studies from Human Rights Watch show that your findings do not represent the majority.

      Of course my article is biased as the motivation behind it is to expose Dubai’s treatment of its migrant workers. However my information all comes from reputable sources as opposed to anecdotal evidence like yours. I would love it if you were right though 🙂

    2. Apples and oranges. The conditions described here are certainly true for hotel staff such as waiters, bar staff etc.
      The construction workers is a different case and it is not good although its getting much better.

      There are several rules applied now. For example is it now illegal to take away an employees passport (20.000 aed fine) and workers housing is checked. Know of companies that failed these inspections and are then forced to put all their workers in a hotel until the housing standard is sorted.

      1. I think the conditions for construction workers are even worse (I did a pretty detailed write-up of construction workers specifically). It is illegal to take away the passports, but from my research I found that this law is never enforced. It is also illegal for the workers to pay their own visa fees but the recruitment agencies make them pay them anyway and the authorities just turn a blind eye. It is also incredibly difficult for workers to take things to court because the system is stacked against them. It is expensive, they don’t speak Arabic or English, and even if they DID somehow manage to successfully take a case to court, the chances of the decision being ruled in their favour are slim. I say this after speaking to a migrant worker in Dubai who was having his own legal battles.

        That’s really great that you know of companies that are being held accountable – I hope that this continues and that conditions for workers continue to improve. I have been made aware of better accommodation and have seen pictures showing much more acceptable facilities than some of the pictures here. I just hope that soon ALL workers will have the same living standards, not just a few.

      2. Holding passport is illegal but this just on papers still a lot of employers holding and keeping the passport of the employees and you have to fight and argue for your annual leaves. The point that you should keep on your mind that European nationalities has a completely different treat and even higher salaries even if they do the same job.

        1. If you are not Arabic and male you have no rights in Dubai.They will hold you hostage.If you find yourself there and out of money you just recieved a life sentence.No money you can’t buy a work visa if you could afford it.No work no way to earn money no money can’t pay bills You can not leave there if your debts aren’t paid.You are now a hostage of Dubai

      3. Thank you, I am planning a trip in November. I don’t want to cancel but I will if I don’t get more information like yours!

    3. No it isn’t biased many of those people you describe work in international hotel chains they have recourse. The majority of the ones that are South Asia work in building trades for local companies. They usually dont have recourse

    4. I worked for more than 4 years in hotels in Dubai, started in line level and made my way to management. The sponsors do take the passorts, a waiter’s salary was 1.000 to 1.3000 dirhams per month. roughly 250 to 300 EUR. Accommodations are usually horror stories plagued with cocroaches.
      The corrupted system and public authorities allow it to happen. The hotels encourage it and because we are professionals, we kept a 5 star demeanor in our work places. Hence, we just don’t mention it to our customers.
      By the way, if we do mention and word goes up to hotel direction, we would be inmediately fired (which was, by the way, the only way to leave the country without being demanded to re-pay at least 3 months salary in “recruitment expenses”)

      1. I’m so sorry that this happened to you. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences here so that people don’t just have to take my word for it – I think that it is very important that people hear the experiences of people who have been through this. Would you be open to answering some questions via email that I can put into another post?

        1. Please talk about domestic workers, girls are suffering in Dubai and some are killed, you can’t even report to the police and they listen to you since you don’t talk there language and on top of that your black, they can’t listen to you , these pple really misstreat us

    5. Hi, You must be biased for Dubai as you’re not aware of the slave labour conditions and just cherry picking info that you like. Just watch the youtube video of Vice and other dubai slavery documentaries stating that the UAE PM’s horses have better conditions than the human labourers. All what is stated here in the article have their credible sources. Are you siding with the oppresors?

  3. Thanks for your article. Our taxi driver here in Dubai (we are here for 3 days) told us the construction workers do more – 12hpd, 7dpw for about 1200AED pm, and get to go home once every 2 years. He does a lot better as a taxi driver; works 10m out of 12 “on commission” 6dpw, 12 hours a day, sharing his 1BR unit with 3 others from his village in Pakistan whilst supporting his family. Meanwhile the buildings going up everywhere are substantially empty, it is very hard to know what to make of all this but overall there is something troubling and fake about Dubai

    1. It’s good that your taxi driver seems to be getting a better treatment. Hopefully he manages to send enough money back so that he will be able to return to his family soon! Yes, Dubai seems incredibly fake, I agree.

    2. Thank you for raising awareness I visited dubai this year. Everything is in very good shape, yet I felt very uncomfortable even though I have no idea why.

  4. A friend was born in Dubai of engineering Indian parents. I learned a lot talking to them. 1) no one can be a citizen of UAE unless they are of the royal family. 2) foreigners are not allowed to buy property there 3) immigrants can only move to UAE between the ages of 20-60. After the age of 60, you MUST leave the country. (I guess that’s one way to not have to deal with the challenge of caring for the elderly.)

    1. “A friend was born in Dubai of engineering Indian parents. I learned a lot talking to them. 1) no one can be a citizen of UAE unless they are of the royal family. 2) foreigners are not allowed to buy property there 3) immigrants can only move to UAE between the ages of 20-60. After the age of 60, you MUST leave the country. (I guess that’s one way to not have to deal with the challenge of caring for the elderly.)”

      Guess it has been a while since you spoke to these people, because none of your 3 points are true anymore.

  5. I have been to Dubai, for one day, a layover in an Emirates flight. One day was enough. Conversations with hotel employees, taxi drivers, and shop merchants reveal that most visitors won’t meet a single UAE citizen during their stay. UAE has outsourced their entire country without giving resident workers any rights.

    Moreover, Dubai is simply boring. Every attraction is a gimmick, the tallest building, biggest mall, fake islands, indoor skydiving and skiing. There’s no there there.

  6. I have been to Dubai with my family for 3 days because at the beggining of this year. Before we got it I read and watched a lot about its megaprojects. I was under impression of Burj Khalifa and other buildings until on my way home one man at the Airport told me about thousands of deaths among construction workers. Is it True? I suspect the official number are understated. Firstly I couldn’t believe in what he saidt but when I got home I started reading and searching for more facts and stories on internet. I came across plenty of articles and movies showing the dark side of Dubai. The more I read the more I was upset. The stories were scary. However those workers are in hopeless situation. I can’t imagine how many of them got caught in trap. I don’t know how we Can help them to regain freedom. The only thing I Can do is to telling People what I experienced and learned. As I was excited before visiting Dubai now beeing back home I’m totaly disgusted with hundreds of its scyscrapers and super projects. I realised that billions of dollars are spent every year only to increase self esteem of UAE millioners instead of going to People to whom they should have belonged.
    You are doing a food job. If You have some articles or documentaries Please let me know. I’d like to use them to spread among my friends and family.
    Kind regards

    1. Thank you so so much for caring about this. So many people travel to Dubai and see the things that you talk about and then they go back home and simply don’t care. Yes, the construction worker deaths are true. I wrote another article about this actually which you can find here and another one about the workers dying in Qatar building the World Cup stadiums here.

    2. Maybe the countries like India, Pakistan and others where these workers come from should get involved to fight for their people. It is illegal to take anyone’s passport, as it belongs to the government of the country one is a citizen of.

  7. Sorry but can you show us the evidence of all the things you have written and said cause it’s really hard to believe what you are saying without Any sufficient evidence and it’s giving a bad view to Dubai or should say the whole United Arab Emirates.

  8. A few reply comments to your article sound like coming from people who work for the UEA royal family. I never been there or either will. Ethical Tourism is the best approach when on vacation. I always asked myself how on hearth can a place like that build so many super expensive things without exploiting labour and law? A hand full of places in that region are ruled by theocracy or some sort of dictatorship which relates to corruption and ignoring laws and human rights. Thank you very much for your article and links provided for verification. I will spread the word out there about the dark side of Dubai. Deathbai has never appealed to me.

  9. People go to this country, imagining that this is a “fairy tale” country, and hope to find a better future, but the realities are really different. Not always their plans are destined to come true, it’s true, but everyone has their own way … Excellent article. Interesting comments! Thanks for sharing!

    1. I don’t agree that anybody is destined to be exploited and undergo slave labour but I agree that people see the UAE as the place where dreams are made when it really isn’t. Thanks for commenting 🙂

  10. Thank you for responding to me Miss Jezebel 🙂 I love the work you do. It is so important to expose what actually happens in tourist spots. I was hoping starting tourism in saudi arabia would shed light onto the terrible conditions for women and workers, but seeing as how everyone overlooks dubai, I dont feel so confident. Keep doing what you do! I hope some day humans rights in the middle east will catch up to everyone else..

    1. Thank you so much! Yes I hoped that as well, but I don’t have high hopes. It made me sick to see influencers promoting Saudi Arabia as a wonderful free place to go without addressing any of the human rights issues there.

  11. This situation is a lot more horrifying when you see it with your naked eyes. There is absolutely NO denying it. I just wish there was something we could do about it. I haven’t seen many fundraisers or petitions. I don’t think either would word because of the autocracy in the place but at this point, but I guess it’s worth raising the awareness.

  12. This situation is a lot more horrifying when you see it with your naked eyes. There is absolutely NO denying it. I just wish there was something we could do about it. I haven’t seen many fundraisers or petitions. I don’t think either would word because of the autocracy in the place but at this point, but I guess it’s worth raising the awareness.

  13. I find it quite hypocritical that you’re criticizing modern slavery in Dubai, while at the same time promoting products from Amazon! The way that Amazon treats its workers is also exploitative and akin to a modern form of slavery.

    It’s always good to criticize human rights abuses, but not when you are completely ignoring similar abuses in Western countries, including the US and UK. This one-sided criticism feeds islamophobia and racism.

    1. Amazon is for sure exploitative and is actually on my list for a future post. I wouldn’t necessarily compare this to the slavery that you see in Dubai. While I have heard of excessive working hours and the like, I haven’t heard of confiscated passports, workers being legally bound to Amazon with a system like the Kafala system etc.

      We must be very careful when we are discussing this topic and make sure to distinguish between labour exploitation and actual slavery.

      I think that accusing me of racism and Islamophobia is an easy and cheap shot.

  14. Many expats are guilty of not having sufficient knowledge of Dubai Labour Law. Your employer or workmates might have guided you a bit, but you should understand them fully to ensure lasting and successful employment here.
    It is a federal law that applies to everyone, regardless, of their nationality in UAE. Domestic servants, farmers, security forces, and federal and local government personnel are the only exceptions.

  15. Hi,

    How can I contact you? I’m doing a research on the topic similar to what you had posted and your article was great help! It’s difficult to find articles where people are so ready to discuss the issues above.

    I would love to further discuss or understand more.


  16. Do you ask visitors to not go to the US since they love to bomb other countries, killing thousands including women and children, or is it only Arabs that commit human rights abuses? Do you also ask them not to visit Israel for what they do to Palestinians? Or is it only Muslims? As bad as what may be happening to workers in the UAE, they *willingly* come to the country – the same cannot be said for the victims of the countries I mentioned.

    1. Wow, you’re making it a race/religion thing? Lol. Actually I do write a lot about other countries, particularly when it comes to modern slavery. But I suppose that doesn’t suit your narrative 😉

      And the workers may willingly enter the country but they do not willingly enter into slavery. What a ridiculous argument to make.

      1. You didn’t answer my questions. Do you tell people to boycott the US and Israel for their ongoing crimes against humanity, that are far greater than what happens in the UAE? Or should we boycott the UK for their record on modern slavery? “Modern slavery: At least 100,000 victims in UK include British citizens, report claims”. I just want to know what’s your gauge for “boycott-worthy” human rights abuses, because it seems to suspiciously include only non-western countries.

        1. Israel isn’t a Western country so I’m sure if I did advise people to boycott Israel then it would only suit your narrative 😉

          I resent even having to answer these questions because your argument is just classic ‘what aboutism,’ exactly like the people who say ‘all lives matter’ when taking about BLACK lives matter, and the kind of people who say ‘what about International Men’s Day?’ on International Women’s Day. The fact that you jump to ‘but what about XYZ countries?’ or ‘this must be abut race/religion’ is disheartening to say the least, when this is an article about slavery on a MASS SCALE, in a country where 7.8 MILLION people are migrants with little to no rights, and 90% of the workforce being made up of Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani workers who are having their passports confiscated and living as slaves in a system DESIGNED to make this possible (the Kafala, or ‘sponsorship’ system).

          However, I’ll humour you. No, I have not encouraged people to boycott the US, UK or Israel. Boycotting an entire country is a huge thing that should not be taken lightly, and so I have only suggested it in two cases – United Arab Emirates and North Korea. The former because it is IMPOSSIBLE to visit the UAE and not be DIRECTLY CONTRIBUTING to modern slavery (the demand for more hotels creates a demand for more exploitable workers, most hotel staff are victims of modern slavery, domestic workers are slaves, sex workers are more often than not victims of trafficking…the list goes on), and the latter because it is impossible to visit DPRK without being a part of a guided tour approved by the government, with the money ONLY supporting the regime and not the people of North Korea.

          I have not asked that people boycott the entire UK because slavery in the UK is vastly different to slavery in the UAE. Again – 90% of the workforce in the UAE are South Asian migrants, the majority of whom are being exploited and are unable to leave. In the UK, hot spots for modern slavery are hand car washes and nail salons. I have written articles about both of these things and encouraged people to boycott such establishments. I have also written a larger piece about human trafficking in the UK which includes sex trafficking, forced marriage, forced labour and forced begging, along with tips on how to spot these things and which organisations to contact if you are concerned. In fact, victims in car washes and nail salons have generally been freed after members of the public become concerned and report their suspicions to the authorities (see my articles for stats and sources), and so raising AWARENESS among the public is the solution as opposed to boycotting the country. Raising awareness in the UAE is not an option as the government are complicit – the only way that we can evoke change in the UAE is by voting with our wallets, and refusing to spend our money there until things change.

          One last thing as I’m curious about something – you’re definitely implying with your comments that I am anti-Muslim, anti-Arab, anti-POC etc. And okay, I did criticise the UAE so if this makes me a racist then sure, I’m a racist I guess. However, what you seem to be missing is that yes, I may be criticising a Gulf state with an Islamic government, but who are the people that I am trying to help? Indians, Pakistanis, Bangledeshis…none of them white, none of them Western, and the majority of whom are Muslim. When you take THAT into consideration, your implication seems to lose its weight somewhat.

          Hope I’ve clarified things 🙂

          1. You do not provide anywhere near enough evidence to claim that *most* hotel staff in the UAE are slaves. Not even the reports you cite from HRW and others claim that. The investigation you cited by Fair Action looked at a grand total of *3* hotels, and it’s from 2015. Furthermore, unlike North Korea, these are private companies. You say that the government is complicit despite passing numerous reforms over the years. Those who have lived in Dubai do not corroborate this gloomy image. If it were actually true that the *majority* of people are treated horribly, news of this would obviously reach those countries and they wouldn’t come with the rate that they do. This certainly isn’t to say there are no serious problems – there are, and the government could and should do more. This is the common problem among Western critics – it’s not that they do not criticize their own countries – it’s that in those cases they’re simply highlighted as “problems” or “bad decisions” that need to be resolved (see “The Ethics of Visiting Dubai” for a traveller who recognizes this). Whereas a non-western country with issues, despite plenty of evidence of a commitment to reforms, is cancelled wholesale as being barbaric, backwards, etc. Whether your intention is racist or not is not for me to decide, but there’s no doubt that you’ve internalized this view of the world, like many of your fellow westerners. And if you believe one can’t be racist while having concern for others look up white saviorism.

          2. Those who live there do not corroborate this gloomy image? Maybe not the Westerners who are enjoying bottomless brunches and designer shopping, but I have been contacted by SEVERAL victims of slavery in the UAE. One man was born in El Salvador, raised in the United States and went to work in the UAE as a software engineer. He described HORRIFIC conditions that he and his coworkers endured, describing the company as a ‘software sweatshop,’ and saying that he ‘thought he’d seen it all’ in El Salvador but his home country had nothing on Dubai. He explained to me the hopeless legal system and bureaucracy that is stacked against foreigners who wish to seek justice (for example being paid for their work, reclaiming their passports etc.).

            This is how he described the courts system: “When I was unfairly terminated I decided to go to court to file a case against the company. I soon realized that the DUBAI COURTS system is the main reason there are no labor rights for migrant workers in Dubai. I am scheduled to go to court on February 25th, and I am representing myself. Dubai does not provide any free or cheap lawyers. The bureaucracy makes it expensive to file a claim, you need to pay top dirham for Arabic translations. And cases take forever, this is not an accident, but on purpose to tire employees. In my own assessment it is not worth to go to court in Dubai if you are not seeking more than $30,000. A lawyer will cost at least $3,000, and they don’t work on commissions for the most part. I know most likely I will loose my case in this joke court system of Dubai. But in spite of the lack of faith, I am going to court to document and write about my experience. I would like to warn migrant workers from Latin America to be aware of the labor situation in Dubai. Most of them are not professional like me, so most likely they are going to endure worse conditions.”

            He informed me that not only is slavery endemic in the construction and hospitality industries, but also in office jobs like his as well. It is the norm. He detailed numerous suicide attempts (and completions) of people he worked with.

            I have also listened to a 3 minute voice recording that circled around Whatsapp – it is a man’s suicide note. He worked for the big airline company there – not a construction site or sweatshop, but one of the most luxe airlines in the world – and was so tired of being abused that he jumped from a building. I have PERSONALLY LISTENED to the recording. Luckily, the man survived, but he made it very clear in his voice note how awful the conditions were for him and his own colleagues. I was also sent copies of emails where Emirates Airlines were threatening legal action against anybody who spoke to the press about this ‘accident.’

            The man from El Salvador that I spoke to also told me the following, about a domestic worker in Dubai: “But the worst I have seen with my own eyes, happened to a very innocent 20 year old girl from Venezuela. After I became friends with the Venezuelan deputy, one day he asked me to serve as translator at a prison for this girl who only speaks Spanish. She came to Dubai to work as a maid for an Arab guy working for the police. The guy raped her and she became pregnant. Instead of him going to jail, the girl was accused of having illegal sex because she was not married. The Venezuelan Embassy was not able to release her immediately. I think she spent like 3 months in jail before being deported. She went to jail together with her 1 month baby. I felt disgusted to serve as translator having to watch her breast feed her baby.”

            About camel races, he had this to say – “I went several times to watch camel races and thought they were fun. I thought the camel jockeys were short men just like horse jockeys around the world tend to be small and light weight. I had no idea until I watched the attached YouTube video that the jockeys are Pakistani kids less than 10 years old. They are basically slaves who have been separated from their parents.”

            He went on to say – ” I have seen many cultures and countries. But so far, only in Dubai I have seen true slavery. In Latin America there is poverty and work exploitation, but poor people are better off. Only in Dubai I have seen employers confiscating your passport, not paying workers for six months straight, and forcing them to work 12 hours 7 days a week in the sun outside. My wish is that the media informs Latin Americans about slavery in Dubai so that they don’t come here and be fully surprised. I have talked to my ex-Indian coworkers but they are either too scared or maybe they have just accepted that slavery is bad but nothing can be done about it. I also wish that slavery in Dubai does not spread to the office space. Slavery in Dubai used to be the domain of maids and construction migrants. But gradually, slavery is spreading it’s tentacles to the software engineers and lawyers professions.”

            We exchanged more than a few emails, each one at a minimum of about 1000 words, but you get the gist.

            But please do tell me more about how those who live in Dubai do not corroborate this ‘gloomy image.’

            I know exactly what white saviourism is, and I find it incredibly offensive that you are using that term here, and I also find it highly offensive that you are making assumptions that I have internalised racism/Islamophobia because I decided to bring awareness to the horror in the Gulf (and yes, I wrote about Qatar too, and it is because of people like me, making a noise about human rights abuses there and calling for a boycott of the world cup that Qatar have committed to abolishing the Kafala system – if nobody made a scene about this then there would be no promises to reform).

            I have spent YEARS using my various platforms to raise awareness of modern day slavery in all its forms, and I refuse to be silenced just because I happen to be criticising a non Western state.

            Oh, and lastly, if you believe that people simply ‘wouldn’t come’ to Dubai if they knew anything about the conditions there then you have a lot to learn about the world. Desperate people will take risks. I implore you to research sex trafficking, particularly within Europe. Young women from rural Moldova know full well that the ‘hostess’ job in Germany that they’ve seen advertised may well be a front for modern slavery, but they respond to the ad anyway, because they are desperate. Same reason my Albanian friends risked their lives coming to the UK in the back of a lorry, just weeks after 39 Vietnamese migrants died doing the exact same thing.

            I shan’t be responding again as I think that the testimony of the man that I shared with you should speak for itself. Good day to you 🙂

          3. RE: hotel workers and my not having sources – you might want to read this comment by Brumagris, which I am copying and pasting here, although it is in the thread if you’d like to see the original.

            “I worked for more than 4 years in hotels in Dubai, started in line level and made my way to management. The sponsors do take the passorts, a waiter’s salary was 1.000 to 1.3000 dirhams per month. roughly 250 to 300 EUR. Accommodations are usually horror stories plagued with cocroaches.
            The corrupted system and public authorities allow it to happen. The hotels encourage it and because we are professionals, we kept a 5 star demeanor in our work places. Hence, we just don’t mention it to our customers. By the way, if we do mention and word goes up to hotel direction, we would be inmediately fired (which was, by the way, the only way to leave the country without being demanded to re-pay at least 3 months salary in “recruitment expenses”)”

        2. Wow Jack, you sound like a massive douche bag!! Have you ever been to the UAE or lived there? I have and everything in this article is correct. Why do expats that are not slaves not speak out? well freedom of speech is not actually a thing over there, phones are monitored, they have the biggest one of the biggest surveillance camera network and you will get deported if you step out of line.
          The horrors that happen in Dubai are beyond your little brains comprehension clearly, or maybe you’re just looking at though the Dubai rose-colored glasses filter?!

          1. Lol, I’m guessing you’re from the UK which pioneered mass surveillance and having cameras everywhere, and is well known for suppressing freedom of speech. The courts just ruled that the UK’s GCHQ violated privacy by bulk surveillance and interception of communications. I hope you’re fighting for the release of Julian Assange who reported on the crimes of your government. Why do UK citizens not speak out?? Oh right, they’re too busy being racist to Meghan Markle and projecting their crimes on other countries.

  17. I know very well Dubai, and situation is more or less as you described. There some differences about working life, among Gulf countries. Depending , obviously, on the working fields, Tourism, Industry, Constructions, Trade, etc.. Kuwait is definetely better, Oman too. I understand that salaries are low, compared to western countries, but alternatives in many countries are worst than there. Rationally thinking, many workers are able to send money to their countries or to save money, true, it is little money, but in the countries of origin they have value. I don’t remember well, but a statistic on Filipino workers said that the average stay abroad, was about 7/10 years, and allowed them to return home, with a good sum of money sufficient to live well, or start small businesses. I travel a lot, for work in manufacturing enviroments, to many countries of the world, especially in many emerging countries, Africa, Far East, Central America, Balcan countries, and the situation is not very different from that described. There are, also, situations very similar, in many western countries. I’m italian , and I know very well , that in Italy, especially in the south regions, many africans and eastern european workers, workingin the Farms, dozens hours per day for 15/20€ per day, and living in slum, paying rent and food, as well, with no water and no basic hygienic services. As you know, In wealthy countries, cost of living is very expensive. Less borderlines situations, there are in many european countries. This is globalizations, and these situations are not easy to defeat its, until many people around the world continue to ask for products and services at ever lower prices. To be honest, globalization brought 500 milion people poors all over the world, emerging outside of poorness. I dont’ want say that is right, but the road is still long to reach good life conditions everywhere.

  18. no one (please do not publish my name)

    I was thinking if the “real” evil are just locals? There are only a few of them. They are the minority in their own country. Anyway why am I thinking if indeed they are the truly evil in this scenario? Or it just happened that different kinds of evils gather together in this place? You see a local rich guy often have so many businesses and they are entrusting it to others. You will see different nationalities in the top management and in spite of the laws, they pretty much can do anything they want, not unless someone will complain then they will be in trouble. I belong in a big company and we are receiving email from our head office but at the end of each email it states that the head of each department has the power to decide. It is giving them a chance to suck up if they want. To prove that they can bring good results no matter what. Do the owners truly knows what is happening on the ground? Or they are clueless or will gladly turn a blind eye as long as the goal is achieved *money*? Contract states we should work 40 hours per week but not exceeding 48 hours. Other businesses and departments are indeed working only 40 hours per week. But in our department made us work for 48 hours. As per the contract it should be 5 days a week of work. But in reality we are working 6 days. In the company policy we should be compensated with overtime pay, but overtime claims has to be signed by someone in the top management which he is refusing to do so, I guess to reduce the expenses of our department. Mind you, that dude is from a western country who should be a champion when it comes to human rights but since he is in UAE he has to care for himself and nothing else? Will he dare to do the same if he is working in a company in his home country? As per the law if we work on holidays the company has to give us an extra day off plus double pay. Who will enforce such law? I get it, we are still under pandemic. We should do our best. We should help the company. The economy is not good. This comment is not exactly a complain as I need to work in order to survive. But I guess I should share. Because those scenarios I describe has been happening since I joined the company a decade ago and not because of pandemic. Then during the good times, it is only few chosen individuals who get the rewards. While we are always have to follow if we do not want to lose our jobs. Of course they will not tell that exact words in your face but you’ll know. How can a fellow expat do that to others when we are all in the same boat in this country. If we are not thinking of our survival maybe a lot of us will not be here, And maybe I cannot complain because my “concerns” are minor from what others are experiencing. When it comes to increment, it is non existent by the way. That’s all. God bless us all.

    1. I’m sorry to hear that you’re being exploited in this way. You’re right, it has nothing to do with the pandemic. You raise a very interesting point about expats exploiting other foreigners when they would never do so in their own countries.

  19. Actually you have explained what exactly am going through . these people created asituation which can keep someone stay here until he /she gets old .they give less money compared to the expence .

  20. Keep going forward against all odds.It because they are aware of your articles and are feeling the heat hence they counteract your work by promoting Saudi Arabia as a free place.Only be brave and courageous.Fruits are bountiful and these articles shall surely yield not today but someday look at it as planting the seed yes someone will water it without a fail.stay prayerful and hopeful #freedom to the people # fighting corruption

  21. A typical one-sided and biased reflection from a westerner about the UAE. The jealous, grudge and despise many people have for the UAE albeit they will happily live in it for years if not decades.

    Firstly: Have you ever asked yourself why didn’t those ”poor workers” migrate to Canada/USA//Nigeria/Angola?? all those nations have vast amount of oil wealth, and in the case of Canada/USA ,they portray themselves as a beacon for humanity, so why is it near impossibility for a poor Indian/Pakistani/Nepali/Filipino to get a visa to migrate for those oil-rich wealthy western countries? Why they chose UAE instead??
    There answer reveals everything about Western hypocrisy and saviourism. Rich white countries(USA) will build multi-billion dollars walls to stop those ”desperate” migrants, as you call them, from getting in. Rich white countries( Australia) will even deploy fleets on seas to stop those type of migrants, yet you will find those westerners are the loudest, most vindictively criticizing when they talk about the migrants situation in the UAE !!

    How come you’re ready to do every thing to prevent that migrant from coming to your country then pretend to care about his/her wellbeing when they are far away from you? isn’t that the essence of the white saviourism?

    Secondly: It’s natural for people to hate, escape, flee from and avoid a country that would enslave or exploited them. However, it’s illogical for people to flock to, mass-migrate to, reside in or most importantly, fear deportation from a country that enslave/exploit them ! Migration from S. Asia to UAE has been ongoing for over 45 years. It would impossible for those migrants to come and continue coming at this rate if the UAE was such evil, enslaving country. NO amount of desperation will make someone to favour ” modern slavery” over desperation.

    UAE population stands at 10M. 90% of which are migrants. From 2003 to 2012 UAE population has TRIPPLED , no country on earth experienced such increase without massive unrest, violent against migrants except the UAE !! NOT a sing mass shooting in UAE where as in New Zealand, Norway, Germany, USA all saw multiple mass-shooting of migrants !!! that leaves one conclusion : UAE ,albeit not perfect, is by far, the safest and most promising country on earth for those poor migrants, otherwise they would have chosen another country.

    Thirdly: Remittance form UAE in 2019 hit $44 billion ! only second to the USA and therefore the World Bank described the UAE as a global force in reducing inequality ! On the other hand, all the Foreign Aid plus the Foreign direct investments (FDIs) to those S. Asian countries are dwarfed by the remittance form the UAE. For instance, Kerala state in India witnessed a gdp growth of 12%, the highest in India and ,guess what, that economic achievement is entirely attributed to remittance sent from the UAE !!! just google it.
    That is a glowing evidence for the UAE as worthwhile country for migrants to come, work, send remittance.

    For that a lone any person with shred of common sense will applaud the role of the UAE and other gulf countries in alleviating global poverty.

    Fourthly; You seems to ignored the fact that the UAE tourism industry supports millions of the very migrants you claim to care about. So if the so-called ”boycotting campaign” succeeded , being hypothetical here, would you be happy when all those hotels workers, airports staff, restaurants chief, taxi drivers…etc lose their jobs ang go back home? will you give them visas to rich white countries ? or just you don’t care.

    You must have seen how wheel-clutching Afghans fell from US planes and how the UK evacuated dogs and cats and left poor Afghans at Kabul Airport. White saviourism ends when that poor person they ”try to save” tries to enter the white country.

    Fifthly: Western companies are ones of the largest training partners for the UAE and gulf countries. Many Arms deals, aircrafts, automobiles, oil industry project, schools, university campuses…etc all these businesses are supplied by western countries, so would you like to boycott all these businesses as well?

    Lastly: The fact that you suggested Singapore as an” ethical alternative” destination for tourism highlights not just you sheer hypocrisy but your bias against UAE as well. How? Singapore has one of the strictest migration regime on earth. It’s 100 times stricter that that of the UAE. Singapore law latterly prohibits migrants from S. Asia from marrying a Singaporean national ! and If a migrant female got pregnant she will be deported immediately ! and, of course, the migrants can not change employer without permission. You seem no nothing about Singapore yet advocate for it as an ”ethical” touristic destination ! google the Singaporean migration system and you praise UAE for 1000s years.

    How bizarre and ironic is that you never ever mention a positive story about migrants in the UAE ! how their lives were back home and how it transferred after they arrived to the UAE ! how they remittance they sent have helped their kids to attend schools, put food on table and lift them out of poverty. Such stories ,according to you, don’t exist at all.

  22. Hi there, I live and work as an employee in Dubai since more than 5 years. I wanted to point out 2 things:

    1. Everything you write is definitely happening here, but there’s one completely wrong assumption:
    « If we limit the demand for new hotels, we curb the need for the supply of fresh workers. »
    That is a total misunderstanding of WHY they are building countless of luxery hotels here (hint: it’s not for the tourists! There is already an over abundance of hotel rooms availability, and most hotels remain half empty the whole year).
    The constant new luxery constructions are tied down to the US central bank that keeps printing more money (and the US dollar is the world’s reserve currency):
    In 1971 president Nixon removed the gold standard as backup for the US Dollar, and opened the door to many other things used to backup dollar-printing, including real estate. You can google it and find out all the details. But basically they can build a luxury building with cheap labour (lower cost than in the US) and use this as a backup value to print out more dollars. Then it doesn’t matter if the place stays half empty; because they just need the building to have a minimum occupancy to cover ongoing maintenance/functioning costs, and they’re good. This is all organised by some powerful billionaires in Texas apparently…(you can research this)

    2. The labour conditions you described are sadly real for many workers, but definitely not for ALL… I personally know countless south-asians who are very happy about their job conditions in hospitality (for example a waitress in a small restaurant who’s currently building 5 villas in Philippines just with the money she earns in Dubai! Or my dear cleaning lady, who’s currently saving money to open a state of the art luxery beauty salon in her home country next year!). Things are changing here and I even if I wish it would evolve much faster, still, things are now changing for the better. I wish you also mentioned this!

  23. Experience of all the community and people can’t be same. Few have the good experience and few have the bad experience. But mostly the people seem to be happy here. There is no Doubt its a land of opportunities. From North America to Africa, it has changed the destiny of several people.

  24. It’s unfortunate… Not getting a fair share out of the work you do doesn’t sound very fair at all but I have to say, this happens EVERYDAY, Everywhere and in all places… Even rulers are slaves to some degree though they appear free. Who the hell ever said life was fair to anyone? The lie is that people are fair. The worst type of situation is where you think you are getting a fair deal because either through the manipulation of money value, people are getting used. Since when is life fair? The mirage and perpetual falsehood is that there is fairness somewhere-What a lie that is! A government cannot create “fairness” and the people who are subjects of governments are slaves….Humans are slaves no matter what you say. School children getting mentally abused for not spelling History correctly are in a way slaves. Being free, totally free, is an impossible thing-Impossible-This study comes from a “Swedish” study… Guaranteed they are trying to make their civilization appear more fair and free than these because they covet Dubai’s work force or want to flaunt the lie… Like a bleach blonde. What else could it be? Are the Swedes spending ANY of their time or resources into making these peoples lives any “better” for the sole benefit of these people? I didn’t even hear the mention of one of the slaves names…Are they throwing money at these people? How about a ride back to their native country? No! Not at all. The whole idea of fairness is a fools lie-It’s more trouble than it’s worth. Who ever jotted down fairness as being a goal had one thing in mind-To trap people. Often guilt is used too…What are your hopes of showing this? Make people upset and angry? I’m not from Dubai… I have no interest in saying that Dubai is bad or good and nothing to gain… I am from planet earth… This is what is done in the Earth and that’s not going to change at all-I would say the best idea for anyone is to “enslave” themselves to peope who want less gold and enjoy good food. Thats about as “fair” as you can get. But that society would get boring-

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