Sunday, September 23, 2007

All greatness is built upon bones of others

While the rich downplay Dubai's request at purchasing a good share of NASDAQ, there appears a story now which shows again, how empires are always built at the expense of others.

Suffering beneath the skyscrapers
ALONG the coast south of old Dubai's souks and dhow harbours, where until a few years ago there was only scrubby wasteland, a futuristic vision is rising from the desert.
Glittering skyscrapers stretch for miles. Garish theme parks are opening. Sports stadiums are half-built. Manicured green verges are kept constantly watered in the searing Gulf heat by teams of men who are always Asian and always wearing overalls.
In just four decades since the oil money began to flow, the sheikhs in charge of this tiny emirate have turned it from a dusty Gulf backwater with a disreputable history of piracy and gold smuggling into one of the fastest-growing, hippest cities on the planet, awash with trendy bars, expensive hotels and branches of Starbucks.
In a region better known for conflict and stagnation, their achievement is an example of what can be done with ambition, oil money and cheap labour. They have made Dubai a stunning advert for globalisation, and next they want it to be the business capital of the Middle East.
Foreigners pour in at a rate of 800 a day. Europeans, Iranians, and Arabs from Egypt and Lebanon come to make their fortunes. Then there is the army of blue-collar workers from South Asia whose muscle has built the miracle - half a million of them toiling in the world's fastest-paced construction boom, with a modest dream of saving enough for a plot of land or a little shop when they go back India, Pakistan or Bangladesh.
Thousands of them work far above ground level on the Burj Dubai, the looming skyscraper which overtook its nearest rival recently when it reached 1680ft to become the world's tallest building. It still has 900ft to go before it is finished, when it will include four swimming pools.
Nearby is the world's biggest shopping mall, with a huge indoor ski slope where Arab families romp on artificial snow, and the graceful 1055ft-tall hotel on Jumeirah Beach, shaped like the sail of a dhow.
A gigantic artificial island development laid out like the fronds of a palm tree jutting into the waters of the Gulf is nearing completion, its luxury villas already snapped up by thousands of Britons who want a home among the 30 five-star hotels, shopping complexes and marinas.
More than 100,000 now enjoy the emirate's tax-free lifestyle of Arabian sunshine, soaring property prices, and air-conditioned luxury. Pushy estate agents with upper-crust accents boast about the year-long sunshine, the lack of language problems, and the "lifestyle", which for most means shopping in the endless malls or drinking in fake Irish pubs.
On the other side of the emirate from The Palm, to the north past a forest of cranes and miles of scruffy building sites, is a very different version of the Dubai dream, inhabited by the less fortunate group of foreigners.
The sprawling, heat-blistered labour camp of Sonapur is a squalid home very different to the air-conditioned luxury enjoyed by the British expatriates. Workers sleep eight to a room in ugly dormitory blocks festooned with washing hung out to dry, shuttled by fleets of battered buses past the Starbucks and bars to building sites ringed with barbed wire where they toil for 12 hours or more, six days a week.
Few ever see the inside of an air-conditioned shopping mall on their weekly day off. The security guards wouldn't let them in. Instead they loiter in front of Sonapur's down-at-heel supermarket. They have no spare cash. During their years in Dubai few manage to save much more than 500 dirhams a month (£70), and they must usually spend four years working before they can return home.
Afzal, from Bombay, said he had been promised 850 dirhams a month working as a crane driver by an agent before he arrived, but he has instead been paid only 450.
He said: "I went to a labour court but they didn't listen to me. Conditions are very bad here, there are 12 people sleeping in my room. Indian workers are treated like rubbish. I'm going home to India, the economy is good there now and I don't have to put up with this."
As he spoke, a growing crowd of labourers growled approval and clamoured to denounce Dubai. Instead of the opportunity they had hoped for on the emirate's building sites, they had encountered only disappointment.
The angry mood is new and, for Dubai's construction bosses, deeply worrying. For years, workers simply put up with being cheated by agents and employers. They had no choice, as their passports are confiscated on arrival, to control them so they can't leave or switch jobs. Many go months without being paid, and stories of workers being cheated out of their earnings are common.
What is new is the mood of angry militancy which is taking root among a labour force whose quiescence bosses have long taken for granted. From being unheard of a few years ago, the past couple of years have seen dozens of strikes.
Last year almost 3000 workers rioted, forcing the government to step in and order a company to pay months of unpaid wages. Fifty ringleaders were tracked down by police afterwards and sent back to India, but the bosses were shaken.
A few weeks later there was a strike at a Belgian-owned company. Trade unions are illegal, and so is industrial action, but industry observers say that big projects now routinely suffer walkouts - unheard of just two years ago.
Part of the change may be explained by India's own construction boom creating new blue-collar opportunities at home for the formerly inexhaustible labour pool. But many of the workers seem to have simply had enough. High-profile industrial accidents have also highlighted the shocking conditions they must endure.
Earlier this year men were shown on live TV falling to their deaths when fire swept through the high-rise tower they were working on. Things have got so bad that there has even been some grumbling from the Indian and Pakistani consulates, not known for their willingness to upset the Gulf's wealthy rulers.
And the scandal is affecting Dubai's international image at a time when United Arab Emirates (UAE) companies are buying up foreign firms, to the alarm of foreign workers. One prominent columnist on a newspaper in Pakistan, where many of the workers come from, compared construction of Dubai's towers to the building of the Pyramids by Egyptian slavemasters.
Worried construction bosses have already started to make concessions. Work has been forbidden during the hottest hours of the day, when temperatures reach 50 degrees centigrade (122 degrees fahrenheit), because exhausted, dehydrated workers were getting dizzy and slipping from tall buildings, although the government's own inspectors admit that hundreds of companies are ignoring the compulsory 150-minute break.
If workers are injured (and nobody really knows what industrial accident rates are), they are often dumped at hospitals by agencies with no cash to pay the bill. One expatriate Indian businessman, C P Mathew, was so moved by the plight of his countrymen that he started helping injured workers on his own initiative.
The most glaring problem is the behaviour of recruiting agents who persuade workers to try their luck in Dubai. Many are little better than con men. Mathew said: "Every day there is a case where recruiting agents cheat the workers. Most of them are illiterate villagers and they are vulnerable."
Many of the workers are so desperate, and so far from the support network of their families at home, that they kill themselves. Mathew knows of more than 100 who killed themselves last year.
Big companies such as Nakheel, developers of The Palm, insist that they do not exploit their workforce. Industry figures blame the smaller companies.
The UAE's poor international reputation on labour has reached such a low that Human Rights Watch (HRW) wrote to both the Louvre and the Guggenheim museums this month, asking them to promise that labour would not be exploited when branches of the museums are built in the Gulf state.
HRW warned the museums that they could sully their reputations by getting involved in the region.
Defenders of Dubai's appalling record use the dubious argument that the treatment of poor foreign labour is far worse in Saudi Arabia, but Dubai's rulers are finally trying to take some action. This year they have started to think about what is, in the Gulf, the unthinkable: changing labour laws and handing rights to workers.
Better laws have been drafted which would legalise trade unions. They were supposed to be implemented this year but the consultation period has dragged on as doubts have grown about whether they will ever be implemented.
Workers will still be banned from bargaining collectively, and deportation of strikers will remain legal, although if trades unions are legalised the International Labour Organisation will finally be able to work in the UAE. At present it operates in Burma, a closed nation with a brutal military regime, but not in the free-market UAE.
Critics point out that unscrupulous agents already have a reputation for ignoring existing laws forbidding them from withholding wages. They fear that new laws which could be introduced would be cosmetic only.
But if adult labourers get a raw deal in Dubai, children and women suffer perhaps even more. Last week, as Dubai proudly learned that it had broken the record for the tallest building, lawyers acting for its ruler Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid al-Maktoum were arguing in a US courtroom that a lawsuit claiming the emir had enslaved children should be dismissed.
The case was brought by the parents of camel jockeys, young boys from Pakistan and Bangladesh who were allegedly kidnapped and forced to work as jockeys in dangerous camel races. The ruler had appealed to President George Bush to have the complaint dismissed because it would affect ties between the US and the UAE. Camel jockeys at the desert Bedouin races were banned last year and replaced by robot jockeys, which shows that Dubai can solve its labour problems creatively if it has the will to do so.
Then there's the sexual abuse of women immigrants. Huge numbers of Asians, especially Indians, Filipinas and Indonesians, work as maids in wealthy households where many suffer appalling abuse at the hands of their employers, including beatings, starvation and sleep deprivation. Trapped a long way from home with little money, many women are also easy prey for predatory bosses who want to force them into having sex.
Others are brought to the UAE on the pretence of doing jobs in hotels or restaurants but are instead trafficked into prostitution. Last year the US State Department was critical of Dubai's record on human trafficking, but as with so much of Dubai's labour problem there is really very little information available.
Like so much else about its treatment of workers, Dubai prefers to brush the problem under the carpet. The sheikhs hope visitors will admire the shiny skyscrapers and ignore the plight of the men working on them.

This is a prime example of why the United States can not allow a country such as Dubai to 'buy' so much of something that is directly related to our own National Security, just as with the Ports, so with the Stock Exchange companies.
Pro-Dubai speakers will say that Dubai is a ally on 'the war on terrorism', and that they pose no threat to the United States. Sure, today, but what of tomorrow? What if an anti-West, anti-Israeli, anti-American government assumes power over Dubai? That is not far fetched and could easily happen overnight, with the Mullahs there chanting in their mosque's 'death to America', 'death to Israel'..blah blah blah.
As the current government shows by it's treatment of the many foreign nationals that are the blue collar working force, it is easily not above them to change their face towards the West in a blink of the eye. Money, power, greed, fear, have ruled the Middle East since city-states began emerging thousands of years ago. Nothing has changed since in the manner of which rule is carried out today in the Middle East.
As the article so accurately details, Dubai is a growing, modern country...but as with all great city-state-nations, a people were subjugated to work beneath those in control without regard to their human plight. Until the government of Dubai changes it's way of treating the workers, no real business transactions can take place.

1 comment:

ellen said...

Why not to find a wealthywoman on as their hosts to avoid this!
It is just the joking!
I think there are still some ways for them.They just don't know how to protect themselves. Our society gives less concerns to them. What a pity!