Enforcing Migrant Workers' Rights in the United Arab Emirates

In: International Journal on Minority and Group Rights
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  • 1 Director of Mafiwasta, an organisation dedicated to migrant workers' rights in the United Arab Emirates
  • 2 Lecturer in law at Brunel University, West London

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The appalling treatment of migrant workers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), who constitute 80 per cent of the population and 95 per cent of the workforce, has largely escaped international scrutiny. The paper analyses the failure to protect migrant workers' rights in the UAE from a domestic and an international perspective. It outlines the extent of the abuses and demonstrates how the state's weak domestic laws have been further undermined by poor enforcement mechanisms and a lack of political will to address the issue. It examines violations of international human rights law and possible avenues of redress, notably those relating to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination of 1965, one of only three international human rights treaties that the UAE has ratified. Furthermore, the paper will argue that the UAE's exploitation of the relative economic weakness of its South Asian neighbours has led to a situation that can be characterised as bonded labour of migrant workers, a form of slavery as defined under international law. It will be concluded that domestic labour provisions in the UAE will never be sufficient to provide basic rights to migrant workers due to the de facto control of the private sector by the public sector. Therefore, concerted international attention and pressure will be required to improve a situation in which over two million workers live in terrible conditions, wholly at odds with the wealth and luxury of the country they have helped to build.

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