Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Price Others Pay for Luxury: The Case of Dubai

I’m a bit late getting to this story, posted in The Independent by Johann Hari back on April 7, titled “The dark side of Dubai.” It’s long for an internet story, but it should be long. Hari provides an incredibly comprehensive overview of the numerous problems entrenched in the Middle East’s “Sin City” – gluttony, hideous forms of contract labor (essentially slavery), unmitigated environmental irresponsibility, racism, white collar crime…the list goes on.

As developing countries shift their industrial infrastructure, Dubai can be seen as the ultimate example of social recklessness.

Sahinal Monir, a slim 24-year-old from the deltas of Bangladesh. "To get you here, they tell you Dubai is heaven. Then you get here and realise it is hell," he says. Four years ago, an employment agent arrived in Sahinal's village in Southern Bangladesh. He told the men of the village that there was a place where they could earn 40,000 takka a month (£400) just for working nine-to-five on construction projects. It was a place where they would be given great accommodation, great food, and treated well. All they had to do was pay an up-front fee of 220,000 takka (£2,300) for the work visa – a fee they'd pay off in the first six months, easy. So Sahinal sold his family land, and took out a loan from the local lender, to head to this paradise.

What follows?

As soon as he arrived at Dubai airport, his passport was taken from him by his construction company. He has not seen it since. He was told brusquely that from now on he would be working 14-hour days in the desert heat – where western tourists are advised not to stay outside for even five minutes in summer, when it hits 55 degrees – for 500 dirhams a month (£90), less than a quarter of the wage he was promised. If you don't like it, the company told him, go home. "But how can I go home? You have my passport, and I have no money for the ticket," he said. "Well, then you'd better get to work," they replied.

The work is "the worst in the world," he says. "You have to carry 50kg bricks and blocks of cement in the worst heat imaginable ... This heat – it is like nothing else. You sweat so much you can't pee, not for days or weeks. It's like all the liquid comes out through your skin and you stink. You become dizzy and sick but you aren't allowed to stop, except for an hour in the afternoon. You know if you drop anything or slip, you could die. If you take time off sick, your wages are docked, and you are trapped here even longer."

Is he angry? He is quiet for a long time. "Here, nobody shows their anger. You can't. You get put in jail for a long time, then deported." Last year, some workers went on strike after they were not given their wages for four months. The Dubai police surrounded their camps with razor-wire and water-cannons and blasted them out and back to work.

Again, although the piece focuses heavily on this type of occupational exploitation, it covers a wide variety of other important issues. I could cut and paste more sections in here, but that would not do the story justice. If you have 15 minutes or so, check it out. It is a must read.

The only concern I had with the piece was an ethical one. It quotes individuals who, although their names may have been changed, could still be identified by the government. And as noted in the article, resistance to the capitalist project is met with extreme reprisals. I don’t suppose linking this article up on my little blog will add to that risk, but it is a risk to the confidential informants.

Last year, a good friend of mine suggested I apply for a faculty position in Dubai. At the time, I knew very little of area. Yikes.

(Photo courtesy of The Independent)

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1 comment:

  1. Dave, thanks for pointing this out. I was unaware of the situation in Dubai. Injustice should be called out and fought against wherever it occurs.