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German company using UAE firm with record of migrant worker abuse, rights group says

Migrant workers sit on bunk beds inside the labor camps July 18, 2008 on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. [Ghaith Abdul Ahad/Getty Images]
Migrant workers sit on bunk beds inside the labor camps on 18 July 2018 in Abu Dhabi, UAE [Ghaith Abdul Ahad/Getty Images]

With the rescheduled Expo 2020 Dubai set to open later this year, concerns have been raised over the alleged abuse of migrant workers by major contractors organising and running the five months long mega-event. Some 190 countries are expected to take part in the exhibition which is expected to attract three million visitors from across the world.

One of the star attraction is the German Pavilion. Operated by Koelnmesse, the grand building will showcase German innovation and solutions in the field of sustainability.

However concerns have been raised by a leading rights group that monitors the status of migrant workers, over contracts entered into by the German Pavilion with Transguard Group, which boasts being the UAE's leading business solutions provider. The German Pavilion has signed a framework agreement with Transguard to provide security, cleaning and laundry services during the Dubai Expo.

READ: Report: Over 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar since World Cup announcement

Last year Transguard was the subject of serious allegations of abuse against migrant workers during the pandemic, alleged Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, an international NGO that tracks the human rights impacts of more than 10,000 companies across nearly 200 countries.

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre said that it had approached Koelnmesse for a response to the allegations against Transguard. The group claims that the German firm did not provide satisfactory evidence that effective human rights due diligence was taken prior to its contract with Transguard.

In a press release about the contract, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre cited a number of reports exposing alleged abuses carried out by Transguard against migrant workers. The reports claimed that the UAE firm had withheld passports and wages, was paying below minimum wages, Offered inadequate PPE, imposed forced contract changes and terminations with no notice and deductions from end-of-service benefits. MEMO has contacted Tranguard regarding these allegations but received no response by time of publication.

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"It is concerning that as the German parliament prepares to adopt a milestone human rights due diligence law at home, a German company overseas declines to set out what steps it took to ensure migrant worker rights would be protected," Isobel Archer, Gulf Programme Manager at the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, said."Koelnmesse has chosen to engage a company with a questionable human rights record, whose workers have repeatedly told human rights NGOs, activists and the media corroborating reports of their appalling treatment. All companies have a responsibility to conduct thorough, meaningful human rights due diligence when entering into contracts with business partners or service providers, and should be prepared to disclose safeguards to mitigate abuses."

In October 2019, the Resource Centre released a briefing highlighting the risks to migrant workers in the UAE. The briefing calls on clients such as the Dubai Expo and German Pavilion to award contracts to companies with demonstrable commitments to labour rights, and for companies to adopt and enforce robust protections for migrant workers, including against many of the issues reported by Transguard workers.

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