United Arab Emirates’ (UAE’s) Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Qatar are all equated with luxury that rests squarely on the back of tremendous oil wealth. The local royalty is wealthy beyond imagination, but their fellow countrymen who hold citizenship get a share of the wealth to keep quiet and to accept an autocracy that especially benefits the royal families and their cronies.
At the same time human rights abuses of foreign workers in the UAE have been reported many times over. Dubai in particular is notorious for mistreating foreign laborers from developing countries like India and the Philippines, but also for applying their laws in ways that shock many people in our parts of the world. For example, it is not unheard of that there a foreign woman gets jailed for reporting a rape while the rapist walks free.
So, it is almost “normal” that we would read a Swedish newspaper’s report (entitled “The truth about the luxury of Qatar Airways“) that investigated under what conditions people work for Qatar Airways, an airline that prides itself on offering luxurious travels for the well-off. While wealthy people can enjoy the white-glove offerings of Qatar Airways, the employees of Qatar Airways are treated with dirty gloves. Employees are basically asked to dedicate their lives to the airline for at least five years, during which many aspects of their personal choices are governed by the airline. During that time the company decides where employees live, whom they can see socially, what curfew they have, etc. When an employee does not follow these rules, he or she will get dismissed; no questions asked, no recourse.
Thus, Qatar Airways cements the divide between the have and have-nots. The company prevents the have-nots from raising their heads, maybe even literally. They are kept down with no chance to rise up. Should an employee rise up, they will be dismissed unceremoniously and replaced by another have-not all too willing to accept his or her lot in life in exchange for a job that means survival for them and their loved ones who depend on those earnings.
This report shows simultaneously the disconnect and the connection between the rich and the poor. Rich folks bask in the luxury offered by Qatar Airways without being made aware of how and on what terms that luxury is offered to them. I am sure that there are some callous rich folks who couldn’t care less, or even prefer or even still like this disconnect, but I am equally sure that there are plenty of rich folks who would be appalled about the working conditions of Qatar Airway’s employees. In any case, the disconnect between luxury and the employees serves its purpose. At the same time, offering this luxury is only possible because people, i.e., workers, are connected to the rich by offering not just the services that come with the job, but by being forced also to offer up their own human dignity. Their humanity doesn’t count when the human in question is just an easily replaceable cog in the corporate structure.
When and how will this cycle of abuse end? When and how will people no longer accept the notion that their (or anyone’s) existence depends upon the mercy of an almighty corporation? How do we change the current state in which a corporation exists in its own right without the need for cooperation of its stakeholders – especially when those stakeholders are staff?