Sevil Sönmez, Yorghos Apostopoulos, Diane Tran, and Shantyana Rentrope
Health and Human Rights 13/2
Published December 2011
Systematic violations of migrant workers’ human rights and striking health disparities among these populations in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are the norm in member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Migrant laborers comprise about 90 percent of the UAE workforce and include approximately 500,000 construction workers and 450,000 domestic workers. Like many other GCC members countries, the UAE witnessed an unprecedented construction boom during the early 2000s, attracting large numbers of Western expatriates and increasing demand for cheap migrant labor. Elite Emiratis’ and Western expatriates’ dependence on household staff further promoted labor migration. This paper offers a summary of existing literature on migrant workers and human rights in the UAE, focusing on their impact on related health ramifications and disparities, with specific attention to construction workers, domestic workers, and trafficked women and children. Construction workers and domestic laborers are victims of debt bondage and face severe wage exploitation, and experience serious health and safety problems resulting from inhumane work and living conditions. High rates of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse impact the health of domestic workers. Through a review of available literature, including official reports, scientific papers, and media reports, the paper discusses the responsibility of employers, governments, and the global community in mitigating these problems and reveals the paucity of systematic data on the health of migrant workers in the Gulf.