Human Rights

What is Modern Slavery in Dubai and How Does it Affect You?

Hi guys! Before I jump into the article I just want to say that this is a written accompaniment to a video that I actually made about modern slavery in Dubai on my YouTube channel, so if you haven’t already then please go and watch that as well. It doesn’t matter if you watch it before or after reading this article because the two go hand in hand. You can find the video here.


dubai skyline

IMG – Unsplash, Daniel Zacatenco


Forced Labour and Modern Slavery in Dubai

Dubai is an increasingly fashionable destination of choice for many holiday-goers. 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 Champage and hang out in the most expensive hotel bars in the Emirates.

Around 16 million people visit the glittering city every year (including 1.5 million 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 the Emirate that most holiday-makers are blissfully unaware of.

You see, in addition to shocking human rights abuses, the United Arab Emirates is actually an epicentre of modern day slavery.


bird's eye view of dubai

IMG – Unsplash, Arham Awan


Think slavery doesn’t exist anymore in the modern world?

Read on to find out just how modern slavery functions in Dubai and how mass tourism is only increasing the demand for slaves.

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.

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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 recruitment agencies to pay the exorbitant ‘visa 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 people sleep in a room, their passports are confiscated and they are told that they will actually be working 14 hour days, 6 days a week, in the desert sun.

This, dear readers, is modern slavery in Dubai.

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

You see, it gets worse. Much worse. Not only do the workers 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 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.


bird's eye view of dubai

IMG – Unsplash, Arham Awan


So, what does all this have to do with tourism in Dubai?

Well, 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 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.

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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. 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.

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.

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 mean, isn’t that what the Instagram generation care the most about? I suppose as long as you can takea cute picture looking over 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.

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  • Reply
    March 23, 2019 at 4:47 am

    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?

    • Reply
      Travelling Jezebel
      March 23, 2019 at 3:52 pm

      Oh gosh, that’s awful. Yes definitely, I’d be more than happy to publish a guest post if you wanted to write your experiences down? Feel free to email me at if you’d like to!

  • Reply
    M neale
    August 11, 2019 at 3:14 pm

    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

    • Reply
      Travelling Jezebel
      August 13, 2019 at 10:40 am

      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 🙂

  • Reply
    September 17, 2019 at 5:30 am

    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

  • Reply
    Bonnie Hickman
    October 22, 2019 at 4:50 am

    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.)

    • Reply
      Travelling Jezebel
      October 22, 2019 at 1:41 pm

      So somebody could work in the UAE for 40 years and contribute to their economy but as soon as they turn 60 they leave…wow.

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