Now Is It Time for Higher Labor Standards?

| Wed Sep. 28, 2005 2:36 PM EDT

Speaking of labor and globalization, Hassan M. Fattah of the New York Times had a stunning look a few days ago at the dismal labor practices in the United Arab Emirates:

Of the one million Dubai residents, fewer than 200,000 are citizens; two-thirds of the rest are from the Indian subcontinent and the Philippines, the Dubai Development and Investment Authority said. A vast majority of the foreigners work in the service and construction sectors. Last year alone, Mr. bin Dimas said, the government granted 250,000 visas to laborers. The United Arab Emirates has earned the dubious distinction of having some of the worst labor conditions. Human Rights Watch has cited the country for discrimination, exploitation and abuse. Many foreign workers, especially women, face intimidation and violence, including sexual assault, at the hands of employers, supervisors, and police and security forces, the rights group said, while children are especially vulnerable to labor and sexual exploitation and denial of basic rights.

The end of the article notes that UAE is trying to enter into trade agreements with the United States and others. So the big question, of course, is whether the U.S. will try to tie those agreements to labor rights and standards—for instance, legalizing unions. Oftentimes free traders say that it's unfair to saddle developing countries with expensive regulations and labor standards that would deter foreign investment. Despite the fact that, as per the David Kucera study linked below, that doesn't seem borne out by the facts, there's no excuse to avoid putting pressure on UAE, which is one of the wealthiest countries on earth.

UPDATE: This Post story, from last week, might offer a sign of how the Bush administration handles UAE: "President Bush decided Wednesday to waive any financial sanctions on Saudi Arabia, Washington's closest Arab ally in the war on terrorism, for failing to do enough to stop the modern-day slave trade in prostitutes, child sex workers and forced laborers."