Dubai wanted to make a good first impression as the Middle East’s first world’s fair host, so it left nothing to chance.
Dubai lavished billions of dollars into its immaculate fairgrounds and joyous festivities, which opened last month, with the goal of attracting 25 million visitors to the pandemic-delayed Expo 2020.
The United Arab Emirates’ problematic labour system has long been accused of mistreating workers. Dubai has pushed companies on the project to higher-than-normal standards of worker welfare, recognising that Expo brings more attention to its labour practises. Contractors provide greater benefits and compensation to Expo workers than they do elsewhere in the country, and many are grateful for the positions.
Nonetheless, according to human rights organisations and interviews with over a dozen workers, violations have continued, aided by the UAE’s labour sponsorship scheme.
Workers have complained about having to pay exorbitant and illegal fees to local recruiters in order to work at the world’s fair, employers confiscating their passports, broken wage promises, crowded and unsanitary dormitory living conditions, substandard or unaffordable food and up to 70-hour workweeks in brutal weather.