06 August 2007

Your $1,000 hotel room, my $1 daily wage

As a tourism researcher and critic, I find Dubai simultaneously fascinating and disturbing. This is a place that is spectacularly reinventing itself as a global tourism destination and doing so in ways which represent the very best (or worst) of advanced capitalism.

My colleague Adam Jaworski and I just completed a three day field trip there and were amazed by the conspicuous construction and consumption which quite apparently sits alongside - on top of - the most inconspicuous inequality. Without absolving them of any direct responsibility, it's simply not sufficient to blame the Dubaians for this - that's too easy Euro-centric, anti-Arab kind of move. The planes we travelled on, the hotels we stayed in, the restaurants we eat in were filled with people from all over the world but mostly Europeans and their descendants.

Today, the New York Times offers yet another media report of the extreme labour conditions under which Dubai's 1.2 million construction workers are working to produce this playground in the desert for the global elite and super-elite. There's also a slideshow of tastefully-styled , media-synthesized photos. (see example above) Take-home point: average wage $1 a day compared with the $1,000 a night some are paying regularly for a room at hotels like the Jumeirah Beach hotel (above) - and those are the cheap rooms!

Here's how one commentator quoted in the NYT article put it rather nicely:

For a country courting tourists and investors — and a free trade pact with the United States — the report stung. “If the U.A.E. wants to be a first-class global player, it can’t just do it with gold faucets and Rolls-Royces,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director for Human Rights Watch. “It needs to bring up its labor standards.”
The questions which this begs is, of course, just what sort of labor standards are the other "first-class global players" setting themselves? And do we really care enough anyway?

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