Protect Migrant Workers from Employment Slavery


Target: President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates

Goal: Uphold international labor standards for migrant workers in the United Arab Emirates

A tied visa employment system known as Kafala is just one tier of abusive employment in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Over 80 percent of the population of the UAE is non-national. Like other tied visa employment for migrants, Kafala keeps the worker’s visa under the sponsorship of his employer. This means the worker cannot change jobs. Strikes, also, are illegal in the UAE, and if the worker leaves his employment he risks deportation.

Though laws for the protection of migrant workers are in place, it is unclear to what extent they are upheld and enforced.

The U.S. State Department’s annual trafficking in persons (TIP) report released this month ranks the UAE in “Tier 2,” meaning the country is not in compliance with the minimum U.S. standards on trafficking and forced labor.

An October 2013 strike by construction workers in Abu Dhabi led to the deportation of hundreds. The strike was over the conditions for workers during the building of a New York University (NYU) campus. Workers reported having their passports taken, receiving wages well under what they were promised and being beaten and over-worked.  They also claimed that they were forced to work ten and twelve hour days, six to seven days a week, even though they were promised only voluntary overtime. This was all in spite of a 2009 “statement of labor values” issued by NYU for the treatment of its workers during the construction of the university, denouncing all such injustices.

The same complaints were recorded from December, 2013 over the massive construction projects on Saadiyat Island, where five-star hotels, museums and resorts were being built. The project was run by the UAE tourism development and investment company (TDIC), which were accused of not following their own standards for working conditions.

Urge the government of the UAE to uphold its laws against the mistreatment of the workers creating its sparkling sprawl of high rises and cultural retreats.


Dear President Khalifa bin Zayhed Al Nayhan,

The laws which exist in the UAE to protect workers and migrants seem so far to exist only on paper. Many organizations including the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the U.S. State Department, and Human Rights Watch have condemned the deplorable working conditions and regular mistreatment of migrant workers in the UAE.

Between visa sponsorship, banned strikes, and a failure to enforce working standards, the UAE is failing more than 80 percent of its population, which is immigrant.

The injustices visited on those creating the beautiful, shining cities of one of the world’s richest countries is unacceptable and completely reversible.

I implore you to act for the rights of all those within your country and uphold international labor standards.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Imre Solt via Wikimedia Commons

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