Domestic workers at Dubai Expo 2020 forced to pay illegal recruitment fees

3 min read
29 March, 2022

Foreign workers at Dubai’s Expo 2020 have given further accounts of alleged exploitation at the event in interviews with The Financial Times

Workers who spoke to the outlet described how they were forced to pay back large recruitment fees, leaving them little to send home to their families back home.

It comes after a UAE service provider pledged to reimburse employees who had paid for their own recruitment fees, following a report outlining the practice.

Despite the use of recruitment fees being outlawed in the UAE since 1980, a number of the exhibition’s workers said they had been made to pay them back.

"My mother told me to come back home - I came to change my environment, but I am better off back in Ghana," one worker from Ghana told the FT

The unnamed cleaner said the fees significantly reduced her monthly salary of Dh1000 ($272) , leaving her with just Dh200 ($54.5) to send back to her family. 

The cleaner works for ADNH Compass, a joint venture involving Abu Dhabi National Hotels and British company Compass Group.

The use of recruitment fees has been condemned by numerous advocacy groups, who say that the fees trap migrant workers in low-paying jobs, where they have to repay the fees over months or years. 

Advocacy group Equidem interviewed 69 workers at the expo, finding that 83 percent had been made to pay the illegal fees, had not been paid in full, or had not been paid on time. 

"The failure to protect migrant workers from forced labour practices at Expo reflects the international community’s inability to conduct adequate human rights due diligence," Mustafa Qadri, Equidem's founder said.

The Duabi 2020 Expo, which is due to end on Thursday, has relied heavily on foreign workers to undertake domestic work. Many of the employees who accept the work, hoping to send remittances back to their families to help pay for property or education.

According to The Financial Times, workers have used life savings and loans as high as Dh8,000 (£1,650) to pay off recruitment fees, and often have to pay even when their work ends.

UAE service provider ADNH Compass said that the illegal recruitment fees the workers paid off would be "reimbursed by the agent or us".

The news that workers would be reimbursed was welcomed by head of sustainability at CCLA Investment Management, James Corah, who leads a collective calling for solutions and an end to forced labour. 

"In addition to the personal tragedy for workers, the regulatory and reputational risks for companies that get this wrong are growing," Corah told The Financial Times

"Investors are watching," he added. 

Expo 2020 said that sets high welfare standards for its workers after the rport.

“Expo conducts rigorous inspections of its service providers and employees sign an undertaking that they have not paid fees to recruitment agents,” they said.