Slaves of Dubai

Uploaded by vice on 08.08.2012


SHANE SMITH: Last time we talked to you, Mr. Ben
Anderson, you had just come back from doing a documentary
on Afghanistan, following the British troops there.
And it was a bit of a cock-up.
SHANE SMITH: And now you just got back from Dubai.
SHANE SMITH: Now most people know about Dubai because
they're trying to be the hub of the Middle East.
And you went and found out some stuff about?
BEN ANDERSON: The guys actually building the big,
shiny skyscrapers and the world's biggest mall and the
world's biggest aquarium and all that stuff.
The guys who are being paid almost nothing to build it.
SHANE SMITH: So they're being built by slaves.
BEN ANDERSON: That's not an exaggeration.
BEN ANDERSON: Once they find themselves out there, and they
realize how much they're getting paid or how much
they're not getting paid, they're indebted by the time
they arrive there.
So it is bonded labor.

We focused on the Bangladeshi workers.
The local agents approach them in their villages.
Say, you've heard about Dubai, you've heard
how amazing it is.
I can get you a job out there where you get paid
300 pounds a month.
Which to them is an amazing salary.
Pay me 2,000 pounds, 200,000 taka, local money, I'll get
you out there.
It'll take you six months, a year, to pay
off the 2,000 pounds.
Then you'll start sending loads of money home.
And before you know it, you'll be buying your family a shop
or a farm or whatever it is.
As soon as they land, their passports are taken away.
They also then find out they're getting paid between
120 and 160 pounds a month.
And this is for six days a week, 12 hours a day, and
living eight men to a room and in what we saw were absolutely
squalid conditions.
The dream of escaping the dreary British winters and
joining the celebs in the sun is one many Brits share.
So I pretended to be one of them and signed up for a First
Group tour that they promised would show me a side of Dubai
which simply can't be revealed from a web site
or newspaper article.
The First Group sales team are adamant the workers building
their project were treated well.

SHANE SMITH: This is what I found interesting about this
is, this is a common perception, even when I was
there in Dubai, is that, oh, it's good for them.
Looks bad to us, but--
SHANE SMITH: Yeah, it looks bad to us but, yeah,
it's good for them.
BEN ANDERSON: We can't get onsite to
interview the workers.
We're going to wait until they knock off, follow them back to
their labor camp and see what conditions are like on this,
which is one of the most high-profile projects in the
whole of Dubai.

This is pretty much how we worked for over a period of
three months out there.
Sneak in or speak to them before they went into the
labor camp.
Because there's a camp boss at every single gate, stopping
people going in.
SHANE SMITH: You're not allowed to talk to them?
BEN ANDERSON: No, no, no, no.
So we would try and grab them before they went in and say--
SHANE SMITH: What would happen if you got caught?
BEN ANDERSON: Well, journalists in the past have
been imprisoned and been slapped with massive, massive
fines out there.
First impressions are, if you didn't know it was a place
where workers lived, you'd think it was a place where
machinery was stored.
No street lights, can even smels the sewage.
Just sheets of corrugated iron protecting rows of huts.
It looks like a shanty town.

So how many?
There's two, four, six eight, eight people in this room?
WORKER 1: Nine.
BEN ANDERSON: Nine people.
But before we could interview the workers, the
camp boss turned up.

There was fear among the unit workers about speaking to us.
They felt they could be sacked and sent home if they were
discovered speaking out.
That shot is basically my vision of Dubai now.
All the glittering skyscrapers on the horizon, and you're in
this sort of black hole a few miles away.
Which is where these guys live.

SHANE SMITH: So what are we going to see now?
BEN ANDERSON: We met an Indian agent who's been sending
workers to Dubai for years, making a lot of money.
And they complained to her a lot, and she just put it down
to them whinging.
But these guys were particularly persistent, so
she thought she'd investigate.
When she finally found these guys-- it took her two months
to find these guys-- it made her so angry that she's now
the first-- as far as I know--
first agent to speak out about this, and speak out with us.
As we drove into it, she said, that building over
there, that's it.
You wouldn't even keep cattle in that building.
The story of the migrant workers is the
dark side of Dubai.
The side which the annual 1.1 million British visitors to
this country never see.

ALMASS PARDIWALA: We'll see the living conditions are
really, really appalling.
Almost inhuman conditions they're been living out here.

This is their very, very, very basic toilet facilities
available to them.
BEN ANDERSON: That's the toilet.
Two toilets and one shower unit for 45 people.
Right now, I seriously wish the world would wake up and
look beyond the glitter to the actual darkness
which is there behind.
I seriously don't think there is a lot of moral
consciousness amongst the employers over here.
And I would not say just one of the companies.
Most of the companies have absolutely no regard for the
human life or the human element of this job.
That doesn't [INAUDIBLE].
Absolutely no regard.
BEN ANDERSON: You see they're building a fire there.
There is a hob in the building, but there's no gas.
They company doesn't supply them with gas.
So they just build themselves a fire out in the back yard.
And that's how they cook for all 45 men.
SHANE SMITH: So they don't have water, they don't have
cooking facilities?
They're completely independent.
Whatever they get, they scrape together themselves.
We spoke to guys who said, all month, they eat
bread, rice, potatoes.
That's all they eat.
I said, what about meat or fish?
Don't you eat ever meat or fish?
They said, two or three times a month they
can eat meat or fish.
And we went into one kitchen, and we saw the guys cooking
their luxury portion of fish for the month.
And it was like four guppies.
I mean, four fish like this big.
That was all it was.
They're easy prey for recruitment agents in their
home countries, who charge them huge fees just for the
privilege of working in Dubai.
On average, they pay around 2,000 pounds, a sum of money
so high that they have to take out loans or sell
family land to pay it.
There are an estimated three million of these workers in
the United Arab Emirates.
So if they're paying 2,000 pounds each, that's some
serious money.
SHANE SMITH: What's that for?
BEN ANDERSON: It's called a visa fee.
And it's supposed to cover the visa and the flight.
Which, of course, is much less than 2,000 pounds.
But that's what it's called, the visa fee.
It's actually the fee for the agent to arrange the privilege
of being able to go and work in this paradise.
SHANE SMITH: And is there actually a visa fee that they
have to pay the government?
BEN ANDERSON: It's illegal for the company or its
representatives to charge the workers for
the visa or the transport.
NICK MCGEEHAN: There would be a contract
signed in the host state.
And he would then be flown to Dubai.
On arrival in Dubai, that contract would
effectively be ripped up.
He would be paid sometimes half of what the intended
salary was.
And his passport would also be confiscated.
BEN ANDERSON: This Scottish guy is very interesting.
Almass, the Indian agent, was so outraged by what she found
when she found these workers, that she wrote to everybody
she could think of.
I mean, obviously everyone in the Dubai government, but
Amnesty International, Human Rights-- everybody.
Nobody replied.
He's the only person that replied.
He used to work for an oil company in Abu Dhabi and was
so outraged by what he saw being done to the workers,
that he's now set up an NGO called Mafiwasta.
And he was the only one that replied to Almass.
So nobody cares.
SHANE SMITH: So they're the forgotten slaves of Dubai.
BEN ANDERSON: Yeah, yeah.
Well, they're largely not known in the first place.
These men were shunted from camp to camp, before ending up
here, either jobless or forced to serve out their contracts.
The families they left behind do not receive
any money from them.
There is no get-out clause.
Even if their passports were returned to them, they
couldn't afford to go home.
They're trapped.
ALMASS PARDIWALA: Basically, yes, you can say they are in
kind of a bondage to the company for the span of the
contract that they are here.
BEN ANDERSON: Isn't holding passports
supposed to be illegal?
There are a lot of things which are supposed to be
illegal, but they still happen here.
And it's very regular.
BEN ANDERSON: That happens very often.
There are some laws in place.
For example, there was a law introduced recently where, if
the temperature goes above 50 degrees, I think it is, the
workers are supposed to down tools and rest
until it gets cooler.
As a result, the temperature never went above 50 degrees.
SHANE SMITH: How can it not go above--
BEN ANDERSON: Well, officially it never
went above 50 degrees.
I mean, it did go above 50 degrees.
But according to official records, it never went above
50 degrees.
So the workers never stopped working.
TRANSLATOR: There is nothing for me.
I've borrowed from other people to buy food.
It's been five months, and he has not paid me at all.

I have begged for good or remained hungry.
Somehow or other, I'm surviving.
My wife and children tell me to send some
money or come back.
Where will I go?

BEN ANDERSON: It took an hour for the workers to travel back
to their camp.
They wanted to speak out but didn't dare reveal their
Like every other worker we spoke to in Dubai, they were
in debt and claimed they were not being paid the money they
were promised by their recruiting agents.
So I grabbed a hard hat and snuck into the camp with a
secret camera.
SHANE SMITH: Did you have to shoot a lot on hidden camera?
I mean, a lot of the interviews, all of the footage
inside the camps were on a hidden camera.
SHANE SMITH: Because if you get caught,
you can get in trouble.
BEN ANDERSON: And allegedly, the government have got paid
informants all over the place.
In hotels, taxis, everywhere.
So yeah, you've got to be really careful out there.
So basically the big sort of main thoroughfare that
separates the accommodation from the toilets is just all
deep, thick mud and, they say, urine and
shit from the toilets.
Actually, the areas around the toilets are the wettest,
muddiest, and smelliest areas, so [INAUDIBLE]
telling the truth.
There were so many rivers of sewage blocking so many of the
walkways that workers had actually set up a network of
stepping stones to get back to their accommodation.
SHANE SMITH: So it must have reeked.
They said to me, this is all raw sewage.
And I didn't know whether they were telling the truth or not.
As soon as you get close to it, it hits you.
SHANE SMITH: So their toilets are just going
out onto the streets?
The areas between the toilet blocks were the most
There was no doubt that this is where the problem was
coming from.

I wonder if the water works?
They can't flush it away after they've used the toilet.
I tried to check every single tap.
A lot of them, there was no tap to turn.
A lot of them, you turn it and no water comes out.
So yeah, they can't flush it away, and it just sits there.
I got to, I admit, the fourth or fifth toilet, and I just
started retching because I couldn't take it anymore.
SHANE SMITH: And you're not a squeamish guy.
You've been to Afghanistan, you've been to the Congo,
you've been to all the bad places on Earth.
BEN ANDERSON: I worked as an undertaker with dead bodies.
SHANE SMITH: You worked as an undertaker.
So this has got to be pretty bad.
BEN ANDERSON: And the workers I spoke to that night said,
this is good, compared to how it has been.
In a statement, the company blamed the workers, saying
their "standards of cleanliness and hygiene are
not up to your or our standards.
It is very difficult to change the habits that they
unfortunately bring with them from their countries of
Panorama has obtained documents which reveal it's
more likely to be Arabtec's own cleaning regime which is
the problem.
A day before I'd filmed in the camp toilets in January, the
Dubai authorities warned Arabtec about insufficient
cleaning of toilets.
SHANE SMITH: So the government knows about it.
What are they doing about it?
BEN ANDERSON: We were quite impressed that the government
had been there and said the situation was critical.
But they fined them 2,000 pounds.
SHANE SMITH: And they hadn't done anything?
It was still awful a month later.
And we've put these allegations to the company,
and they basically say it's the workers fault.
Trade unions and collective bargaining
are illegal in Dubai.
With the companies themselves now suffering because of the
international financial crisis, the consequences of
complaining are worse than ever before.
TRANSLATOR: They're telling, now that you have come, you
stay and work.
If we find any mistakes in your work, then finish.
Back to Bangladesh.
We will no longer keep you.
If you work well, if the company prospers in the
future, we will see what can be arranged for you.
BEN ANDERSON: Do you think there's a chance things could
improve for you here?
TRANSLATOR: We have no hope for the future.
We are helpless.
SHANE SMITH: So you've got three million workers that are
brought over.
Their passports are taken away.
They're not getting paid the money that they should.
In fact, they don't have enough money really, to eat.
They have squalid conditions, raw sewage.
You just came back from there.
How do you feel coming back from the City of Lights?
BEN ANDERSON: The reality of Dubai is the complete opposite
to what you see on television and in magazines.
In fact, I asked the Indian agent, I said, what do you
think of now when you see all these glossy pictures and
videos from Dubai?
She said, now I just see skeletons.