Slaves of Dubai

Slaves of Dubai


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. BEN ANDERSON: Yeah. SHANE SMITH: And now you just
got back from Dubai. BEN ANDERSON: Yep. 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. Yeah. SHANE SMITH: Really. 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. BEN ANDERSON: Yeah. 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. ALMASS PARDIWALA: 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. No. 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? BEN ANDERSON: No. No. 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. SHANE SMITH: Wow. So nobody cares. BEN ANDERSON: No. 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? ALMASS PARDIWALA: Illegal? Yes. 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. WORKER 1: [SPEAKIING BENGALI] 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? [CRYING] 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 identities. 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? BEN ANDERSON: Yeah. 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. BEN ANDERSON: Yeah. Horrible. 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? BEN ANDERSON: Yeah. The areas between the toilet
blocks were the most disgusting. 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. [SOUND OF RETCHING] 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 origin.” 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? BEN ANDERSON: No. 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. WORKER 1: [SPEAKING BENGALI] 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? WORKER 1: [SPEAKING BENGALI] 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.