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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 cockup. 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 highprofile 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 getout 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.

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