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Radisson CSR for migrant workers - kind gesture or missing the point?

On October 11, 2009

An appeal backed by Radisson Hotels raised DH 1 million for construction workers during the month of Ramadan, according to this press release. The 'Shoe Box Appeal 2009' called on school children in the Emirates to donate gift boxes filled with basic items such as toothbrushes, nail clippers and deodorant as gifts to say thank you to the workers who have built their cities.

"There is a real community desire to show appreciation to the workers who help shape the city. The Shoe Box Appeal is one small but real show of support for their welfare,” said a representative of Helping Hands, an NGO which facilitated the distribution of the boxes.

To date, this is the only corporate social responsibility project by a multinational for the welfare of construction labourers that is aware of- despite the fact that abuses of these migrants is one of the biggest human rights scandals in the Gulf region. While it is commendable that Radisson chose to remember the plight of construction labourers during the month of Ramadan -and successfully managed to engage school children in a project for their welfare- surely this gesture is missing the point somewhat?

The very fact that migrant labourers are in need of everyday items needed for cleanliness and comfort, such as soap and toothpaste, should at least set some alarm bells ringing. These workers generally live in squalid conditions outside the city limits, and many of them are severely in debt due to non-payment of wages or unscrupulous manpower companies who charged them extortionate fees to migrate to Gulf countries to work in the first place. (For more information about human rights abuses of construction workers, visit the website of Mafiwasta , an advocacy organization that works specifically on migrant construction workers in the Gulf) If the backbone of a nation's workforce is reduced to such a state that they have to receive rudimentary charity from members of the public in this way then this indicates that there is a serious problem. Construction workers in the Gulf need corporations to commit to more than just toothbrushes and kind sentiments - they need serious attempts to guarantee their basic human rights and safety in the workplace.

When will we see the big players of the corporate world take a stand on this issue? When will we see the real estate giants and international hotel chains stating that they will no longer tolerate shoddy safety conditions on their construction sites, or that they will monitor their local development partners to make sure that migrant labourers are actually getting paid? Until they act decisively, schemes like the 'Shoe Box Appeal' can be nothing more than cosmetic.