Bill Clinton Claims the UAE Passed Legislation Giving Migrants "a Better Deal"

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Apr 24 2010

In a recent interview to ABC's "This Week" former US President Bill Clinton claimed that the UAE passed laws to give "imported workers... a better deal". This statement is wrong on many levels, moral and factual.

Here is the full quote (emphasis ours):

The -- the UAE wins the international competition for the clean energy agency. And they're going to build a carbon neutral city in the UAE. And nobody thinks about this.
Dubai is the only country with huge amounts of imported workers that's actually passed legislation to give these immigrant workers a better deal in the Middle East. And they've got women in the government. They have a joint public-private decision making process.

First, and not to nitpick, Dubai is not a country. Second, calling migrant workers "imported" makes it sounds as if they are goods, not humans. Once you import something, it is your property, you own it, and this is undoubtedly the attitude of some employers in the UAE. Finally, the UAE in general and Dubai in particular offer little protection to migrant workers. The laws that regulate migrant rights in the UAE, which Clinton speaks so highly of, tie down workers to local sponsors, making them completely dependent on them for their livelihood and vulnerable to exploitation. Workers are unable to leave their sponsor without his consent, even if he's abusive.

On top of the Sponsorship system, the UAE doesn't bother enforcing its own laws when it comes to passport confiscations, withholding of pay and altering of work contracts, which workers are subjected to quite often. Working conditions of construction workers are extremely poor in the UAE and workers are often exploited; this resulted in several massive strikes by workers, despite it being illegal in the UAE. The Emirates provide little protection to domestic workers: they are not given a weekly rest day, their work hours are practically unlimited and they are not paid for overtime.

Former President Clinton may have been convinced by the UAE public relations machine, which seeks to portray the Emirates as a beacon of freedom where everyone's rights are respected, but anyone with a basic knowledge of the UAE should know better.

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East