The tallest building in the world – and slave labor – in the UAE

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In case we needed reminding that the fight against injustice is a fight needing to be fought everywhere, here's a brief article on slave-labor conditions of immigrant workers in oil-rich countries:

Taken cumulatively, the condition of the Pakistani, Indian, Sri-Lankan and Bangladeshi workers who make projects such as Burj Dubai possible expose the ugliest and most repugnant face of supposed "progress" in the Gulf States. While newspapers across the Middle East and South Asia spend much time decrying the imperialism of Western countries’ poor treatment of Muslim minorities, little or no energy is spent discussing the plight of these modern-day slaves, whose masters claim to be the most authentic and representative Muslims. Where indeed are the Islamic values of justice, piety and egalitarianism when it comes to foreign workers imported to be human machines?

I don't know any specifics, but I think the further tragedy is that these countries are not industrializing like the United States did or China is doing now (both with slave and oppressed and super-exploited workforces). Building skyscrapers and hotels and casinos provides none of the economic innovation and industrial capacity to support production and, especially, new businesses with new products and services. (Obviously, this is the way the U.S. is also heading – deindustrializing – but we have at least a few flywheels of research universities and remaining small banks. As I point out every time the power goes out, the internet doesn't work, or a bridge falls down, the U.S. has already started returning to third-world conditions across the board, and not just for specific populations.)

Exploitation, of course, has never been necessary for economic progress – certainly not in the last few centuries – and in fact the way oil wealth is being used in the Gulf States is a supreme example of vast inequality resulting in vast misspending. With environmental degradation taken into account, the global economy (often imposed at gunpoint and bomber hatch by the United States government) has been destroying the lives of generations of workers for little, no, or negative progress. It is long past time we put technology in the power and service of the Pakistani, Indian, Sri-Lankan and Bangladeshi workers imported into the United Arab Emirates, the disenfranchised majorities in countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran, the poor majorities of Africa, Latin America, and Asia, and even the regular people of the wealthier parts of Europe, Oceania, and North America— who have more in common with a Chinese teenager working to pull valued bits of metal from toxic tons of discarded computers, on a straight mathematical scale of wealth, than the owners of computer corporations in East or West.

Getting the technology to people who could use it – to live lives of reasonable balance of work, family, friends, and other pursuits, and to develop the technology further in humane ways and not insane ways – has less to do with technology itself, of course, and much more to do with economic, political, and social relations. A small, systemic sharing of wealth – just five percent of total wealth annually shared among all people – would have a transformational effect. There are many ways to work toward the equalization of power that justice and liberty demand.

As long as we keep the aim of increasing the influence of each of us over our own lives in mind for each step we take, we should make ourselves better off with each step, small or big.

In the case of immigrant workers in the Gulf States, as in the United States, the obvious first baby step is moving toward basic rights

If the immense wealth being used to build the tallest tower in he world, or expand the largest restaurant chains in the world, were shared with not just immigrant workers exploited by the managers of this wealth, but shared with everyone – including the people of the countries from which such workers are often economic refugees – both the degree of exploitation would not be possible and some of the immigration would not occur. Such workers would be able to contribute directly to the development of their own countries, on their own terms, rather than working for the elite-planned projects of Burj Dubai or Yum! brands. If so-called wealthy countries seem intent on misspending their wealth, it is for the most part because luxury resorts and cheaper tomatoes in fast food are more obviously profitable, and safer, than public works or people working with one another to meet real physical and cultural needs.