Expo 2020 in Dubai acknowledged Saturday that five workers were killed during construction of the huge world’s fair. This was the first time that worker fatalities have been recorded.
Expo stated that the site was built by 200,000 workers who worked approximately 240 million hours. It has not provided any statistics on worker deaths, injuries, or coronavirus infections despite multiple requests from The Associated Press (and other journalists).
After the European Parliament last month warned nations against Expo, it cited the United Arab Emirates’ “inhumane” practices against foreign workers that it claimed were worsened by the pandemic. The resolution stated that businesses and construction firms are “coercing workers to sign untranslated documents and confiscating their passports. They also expose them to extreme work hours in unsanitary conditions and provide them with unsanitary housing.”
Expo spokesperson Sconaid McGeachin stated that information regarding fatalities had been available previously, but did not provide further details at a press conference. The Expo had previously denied the Expo information to the Associated Press.
She stated that authorities would provide more information on casualties at a later time, but it was not yet known when.
McGeachin acknowledged that authorities knew of cases involving contractors who “withheld passports” or engaged in suspicious “recruitment processes” and workplace safety violations.
She said that she had taken measures to address those issues and was actively involved in cases related to them, but did not elaborate.
Human rights groups have long criticized the UAE for its treatment of migrant workers from Africa, Asia, and Arab countries. The UAE is an oil-rich sheikhdom that rely on low-paid labor to maintain its economy. Officials have fought to project a positive image of Expo, the first Middle East fair that aims to showcase Dubai’s pride while attracting millions of tourists.
UAE laborers are not allowed to unionize and have very few protections. They often work long hours and live in substandard conditions.
Dubai’s early autumn heat was too much for visitors on Friday. Some tourists even fainted in the 40° Celsius (104° Fahrenheit) humid conditions.