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Documentary Pick- Dubai

Explore the darker side of Dubai in The Megacity Built by Slaves

No stranger to controversy, Dubai has repeatedly made headlines of late- be it as the influencer’s choice of mid-pandemic getaway, or as the prison fled by Sheikh Mohammed’s wife and still missing daughter. And yet, the UAE’s most prized pearl continues to be a highly sought-after destination for those seeking sun, sea, and skyscrapers. The number of blind eyes turned to human rights abuses in favour of indulgent hedonism is truly disturbing, but I would grant Dubai’s visitors the benefit of the doubt and assume ignorance. However, Vice’s short documentary: The Megacity Built by Slaves, shines a bright light onto the human rights violations and heartless capitalist endeavours on which the emirate capital is built.

The documentary opens with the BBC’s Ben Anderson describing a trip to Dubai in which he, like many other inquisitive reporters, expresses some concern as to the treatment of workers he observes. His concerns are quickly dismissed. A tour guide recycles the favoured line that their opportunities and conditions are far greater here than in their home countries in South Asia.

Unsatisfied, Anderson and his team embark on a mission to uncover the truth behind the expatriate workers that built Dubai. They make some shocking discoveries: squalid, inhumane living conditions, bonding contracts, and stolen passports to name a few. Most frequently, the Bangladeshi workers he interviews tell of having been offered the ‘life-changing’ opportunity of coming to Dubai as a construction worker, whereupon they found themselves indebted, unpaid, and stranded without their passports (which their employers hold hostage). Their only means of survival, provided they are granted one, is to continue working. It is a tragic tale of the modern-day slavery rampant throughout the Middle East.

The documentary is by no means a visual masterpiece, as it predominantly uses undercover footage and does not attempt to put a positive spin on one of the UK’s favoured tourist destinations. This, however, is all in service of a greater purpose: a desperate plea to the investors, promoters, and tourists of Dubai to recognise the slave labour they are funding. One interviewee, an ex-hiring agent, sadly declares ‘I wish the world would wake up and look beyond the glitter’- a sentiment anyone who watches this short piece will quickly grow to share in. So, this week I invite you to set any wilful ignorance aside and delve into Dubai’s dark underbelly.

Image: Michael Theis via Flickr