The Burj Khalifa, towering 828 metres above the city state of Dubai surrounded by row upon row of tall buildings housing rich investors and expansive malls for them to recklessly spend their money. It is a glittering pin on the world map used to show the glamour and massive scale of the small but wealthy city. Each year 14.9 million tourists flock to see the malls and rub shoulders with the very rich, over 1 million of them from the UK. The Burj Khalifa attracted 1.87 million people who were mesmerised by the 160 stories made from 39,000 tonnes of steel and 103 metres squared of glass. It is somewhat ironic that it was made as an opportunity, an opportunity for Dubai to stop its dependency from its depleting oil life source and become a global hub for tourism and financial services. However, the sparkling skyscrapers are made with the blood and sweat of thousands of migrant workers who are shipped in bulk to the dreamland of Dubai, only to have their passports and human rights confiscated. In this essay I will be arguing for the removal of the Burj Khalifa, as it is a symbol of the decadence of the mega rich and the mistreatment of human beings used to maximise profit.
The migrant workers come from under developed or developing countries, usually working in agriculture or other low paid jobs such as coal mining in places such as India where agents recruit low skilled workers, promising a good income and a chance to live and work in a place where 400 million dollars was spent on an indoor ski resort. A worker told the independent that he was promised he could earn £400 a month to work in Dubai, which the agents described as "heaven”, for a fee of £2,300 to get him work. The income of the poorest Indian states is much smaller than £2,300 at approximately £671 annually, so many people have to sell land or borrow money, promising their family they will send money back home. It may seem ridiculous to us that someone would spend more than their annual income on a promise from an agent to work miles away in a country that speaks a different language. However, to a subsistence farmer who earns very little the chance to work a "nine-to-five-job" and earn thousands of dollars would be like winning the lottery. They accept and join many others and begin the journey to Dubai. They see themselves as lucky people who now have the opportunity to earn money, but the Dubai companies only see them as a cheap commodity. However, it was only in the 1960s that the United Arab Emirates, which Dubai is part of, was full of dusty fishing villages with an average life expectancy of 52 years and a population of 92,600 people compared to 9.27 million people today. Its skyline consisted of low rise buildings and mosques and if someone was wearing expensive clothes the locals would think that they were lost. Then the area struck gold and used its oil wealth to turn itself into the city of luxury we know today. The Burj Khalifa, which was completed just before the 2008 financial crash, is the physical form of Dubai’s Sheik's vision "we want to be number one”, the building’s sheer height shows the world the cities financial muscle and its modernity. Hidden thinly behind the 1.5 billion-dollar building’s facade is the misery of the 12,000 workers that built it.
A BBC documentary revealed the workers were kept in inhuman conditions with rivers of raw sewage flowing through their accommodation, a far cry from the luxury million-dollar apartments that fill the rest of Dubai’s skyline which the workers see in the distance at night when they finally get a chance to sleep. A worker showed his place to a reporter who described it as "a tiny, poky, concrete cell" which housed 12 men. These conditions are shocking and do not usually come to mind when people think of people’s lavish lifestyles in Dubai, this is because the migrants housing is pushed far away from the city, the residents don't want to live near the people who built their homes. The workers revealed to another reporter that they have not been paid and many desperately wanted to return to their home country, but they have been denied the basic human right of freedom of movement due to no pay and their passports being taken away. Most continue to slave away in the blistering heat, but some have seen no benefit to continue this way of life. An Indian consulate in Dubai revealed that at least two Indian workers a day commit suicide by jumping off the towers they have helped build, and in 2005 there were 971 confirmed Indian suicides, but many are categorised as "accidents" by the authorities. This is a scary situation when a property developer has called Dubai "the biggest building site in the world"
A Guardian article reveals how suicides happen so frequently that people are desensitised to the horrific deaths, describing how someone "almost laughed at his death" and that after he was "scraped" of the ground "life went on as usual" and another day later another jumped from Jumeirah Lake Towers. Almost all tourists do not notice the abuse of the workers, they are too hypnotised by the skyscrapers and lights to care, when a Dutch tourist was asked if she was bothered that Dubai was "a slave society " she responded "I try not to see". If the dazzling lights of the skyscrapers such as the Burj Khalifa were not here, would the deaths still be tolerated. After all, in Kazakhstan large numbers of women are similarly promised high paying jobs in richer countries but are instead exploited and trafficked. Because Kazakhstan has no steel and glass monuments to hide behind it has been called out by authorities such as the "United States Department of Labour" who said it engaged in "the worst forms of child labour". When a past agent discovered the appalling conditions, she commented "you wouldn't keep cattle in this place". She was asked what she thinks when she sees Dubai. She responded "now I just see skeletons".
This is why I feel the Burj Khalifa should be dismantled. It is the embodiment of greed and over indulgence but seen as something to admire, people see it as proof that a small town can achieve great wealth yet it and its surrounding buildings are built by people who have had their wealth and livelihood taken from them. People suffered blistering heat and put in collectively 22 million manpower hours to build a skyscraper only to have 29 percent of it unoccupiable, 20 office floors completely empty and one fifth of luxury apartments occupied, so it doesn't seem it will be sorely missed. Despite being relatively cheaper for a building of its size the companies have continued to underpay their workers or not pay them at all and keep them in disgusting conditions while luxury apartments stay empty, one company even blamed the unsanitary conditions on the hygiene of their workers. The government should be helping the workers however have responded in an insultingly weak way, in one case the government decreed that workers cannot work if the temperature was a scorching 50 degrees or higher but, of course, the cold-hearted companies made sure the temperature never officially reached over 50 degrees on paper and so the government looked the other way and instead spent millions on building the world map out of islands. When the previously mentioned ex-agent discovered the grim conditions she contacted many authorities and people to tell them of her anger, but only one person responded. This was not true when a Norwegian woman was sentenced to prison because she reported rape because extramarital sex is illegal in Dubai. There was a public outcry in the western world and she was pardoned by Dubai’s ruler, with little attention paid to the plight of other people in Dubai.
Dubai is seemingly crafted so perfectly on the surface that it becomes impossible for visitors to think that there is an ugly scene behind the surface, a scene of debasement and agony. For example, when an Independent reporter asked an English woman about the servants she cheerfully said "They'll do anything!" blissfully unaware that many are migrants who are underpaid and unable to return to their home countries where they have children. If the Burj Khalifa were removed people would question why and find out that it would be because of the detestable human rights violations which many wealthy in Dubai are complicit with, and the authorities and companies would be pressured to give more rights and freedom to the workers. It would be a warning to Dubai not to put its profit above people.
Instead of leaving the skyscraper's graveyard empty, I propose building proper housing and amenities for the workers to stay, funded with the help of the construction companies and some of the 26,000 millionaires in the city. I considered proposing that profits from the Burj Khalifa could be shared, however this country is in the Middle East where, according to Transparency International, 1 in 3 people have paid a bribe and even the UAE's police chief has said that "we have never had such a high number of people involved in corruption". So the profits would likely be mishandled by the authorities, who would not want to give away their cheap labour supply, and not reach the workers, since many of them were not paid much in the first place. The new buildings would include basic amenities such as sanitary toilets, kitchens and shops for food that the current places do not have. This would finally make the promises of a better life for the migrants true and would be a much-needed reimbursement for the years of almost slave like conditions they endured. This would be a much more appropriate use for the land, rather than a new casino or shopping centres, and would create a greater sense of community in the city as the Indian migrants would interact with the people who live in the city, the people whose houses they built. Decent living conditions may not seem like a big reward but for people living in tiny concrete cells it would be drastically better and would finally let them enjoy the fruits of their own labour rather than a millionaire businessman. A library or school should also be built for the workers to become educated and to educate their children if they want to have any, this would allow them to get jobs that are higher paid and to make sure that the workers do not become looked down upon because they are in low paid jobs. The houses for the migrants could itself become a monument celebrating their freedom and be an inspiration to the 47 million people worldwide denied basic labour rights, including the 29.7 million denied a limit on working hours and show that there is a chance of a better life if others help them contest the people who mistreat them. The migrants would now have a new opportunity in a city in which they were previously trapped.
Jude Browning 10RA