Unjust Transitions: Climate Migration, Heat Stress, and Labour Exploitation in the United Arab Emirates
20 November 2023
20 November 2023
Workers at the heart of the United Arab Emirates's renewable and gig sectors, and at the site that will host the UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) have left homes in Africa and Asia because of climate change only to be subjected to physical abuse, heat stress, exploitation and discrimination, a new report from Equidem reveals. Serious labour violations have taken place at the site of COP28, Expo City, as well as at five renewable energy firms, including Siemens Energy.
Based on correspondence with 248 workers, and interviews with 102, the expansive report offers unprecedented insight into the renewables, construction, security, and delivery sectors in the UAE, shedding light on both industrial and service sector working conditions for 9 million migrant workers.
The shining facilities at Expo City Dubai boast internationally lauded solar and wind parks and a booming local gig economy. Underneath that cheerful exterior, however, women and men from some of the poorest countries on earth are falling victim to an unjust transition: Migrant workers from Africa and Asia are being subjected to serious human rights abuses in a nation whose oil and gas-powered economy is at the heart of the planet’s climate crisis.
“Hosting this peak global conference in a climate and rights abusing state was bad enough. Equidem’s research starkly reveals that the UAE is failing on almost every metric of the UN’s own human rights benchmarks for addressing climate change through the COP process,” said Mustafa Qadri, CEO of Equidem.
Abuses include workplace violence, wage theft, working in extreme heat and other occupational health and safety risks, nationality-based discrimination, exploitative hiring practices, understaffing and overwork, lack of opportunities for promotion, overcrowded accommodations, inadequate food allowances, and inadequate channels for workers to seek relief from these violations.
Investigations by Equidem were carried out between February and October 2023 at Expo City Dubai and in the renewables and delivery sectors, including at Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, Al Dhafra Solar Power Project, Noor Abu Dhabi Solar Plant, Sir Bani Yas Wind Farm Project; and in the delivery sector in the UAE.
Equidem’s research found that African and Asian workers have migrated for employment based upon climate impacts in their own country, and then find employment in the industrial and service sectors in the UAE. These migrant workers are doubly impacted by the global climate crisis—they migrate in response to climate impacts and find employment in exploitative industrial and service contexts where they work long hours in extreme heat. These rights violations take place against a backdrop of racially delineated exclusion from labour rights protections, denial of freedom of association, and authoritarian suppression of dissent in the UAE.