Shattered Dreams

REPORT | 13 October 2015
Photo: Swedwatch

Demanding working conditions, withheld passports and twelve hour working days without breaks or overtime pay. This is the reality for migrants working at hotels in Dubai, according to a report released by Swedwatch and Fair Action today.

A sunny and comfortable family destination or a stop for shopping before you move on to other destinations. Dubai is the place ”where everybody’s dreams come true” according to one Swedish tour operator. In 2015 more than 20,000 people will fly to Dubai with one of the three biggest Swedish tour operators Apollo, Fritidsresor and Ving. And this is a number that is expected to triple in the coming two years.

This dream vacation spot would not be possible without millions of migrant workers form the Philippines, Nepal and other countries. From building the hotels to serving the dinners, are the foundation of the industry. The money earned is then sent back home where it is an important part of the economy. But there is a downside to this life.

In the report  ”Shattered Dreams” Swedwatch and Fair Action has investigated the working conditions for migrant workers at three hotels where customers of the three biggest Swedish tour operators stay in Dubai. The investigation reveals that all hotels limit the workers’ freedom by withholding their passports. The workers also often work up to 12 hour shifts with little or no overtime pay. At two hotels the workers say they paid for recruitment, despite this being illegal in Dubai.

For migrant workers employed by staffing agencies and other sub-suppliers the situation is even worse. To pay for travel and recruitment they sold property in their home country, but when they arrived in Dubai their salary was lower than agreed upon, trapped by debts there is little option but to accept the terms.

The root of these problems is kafala, a system created to manage the flow of migrant workers. The basic principle of kafala is that every migrant worker needs a local sponsor who takes responsibility for the worker during the stay. For workers with no education it is impossible to change sponsors – regardless of working conditions.

The problems discovered by Swedwatch is in violation of international conventions, such as the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights and the ILO core conventions as well as the human rights policies of the Swedish tour operators and their parent companies. The working conditions are also in violation of the local labour law in Dubai.

Apollo, Fritidsresor and Ving all stated that they were unaware of these problems. But the fact that the conditions for migrant workers were neither unexpected nor difficult to prove indicates that the tour operators have failed in their human rights due diligence.

The report makes ten recommendations to the companies. As an acute measure the tour operators need routines to discover and prevent adverse human rights impacts that they are linked to. As a minimum, they also have to make sure that the hotels that they use in Dubai follow local labour law on issues like working hours and recruitment fees. And that they stop withholding the passports of migrant workers.

Made in collaboration with: Fair Action