Thursday, June 18, 2009

Summer is Ycummin In

It is the time of year when Secret Dubai's favourite yellow worm Modesh appears all over Dubai, and also the time of year when the US report on Human Trafficking comes out.

As has happened almost every year since 2002, the local newspapers have had to put in ads for the yellow worm and also to comment on the US report.

I shall leave the yellow worm to others, but about the US report, a little history:

In 2000, President Clinton signed, among his other departure bills, an order that every year the US State Department would prepare a 'name and shame' list on Trafficking in Persons. So, in July, 2001, the Bush administration put out the first report. There were three categories, Tier 1 (excellent), Tier 2 (OK, but could be better) and Tier 3 (rotten). The UAE was one of 23 countries in the rotten category, and all because of the fact that the UAE used small boys as jockeys in the traditional camel races.

No one in the UAE noticed the US report in 2001, but in 2002, someone noticed and took strong action: All the UAE newspapers reported that no boy under the age of 17 could work as a camel jockey, that every single jockey riding in races in the UAE was now at least 17, and there were absolutely no exceptions. The newspapers mentioned that some boys under the minimum age required by UAE labour law had been helping with the camels in order to learn the business (not actually racing them) but the UAE had banned all child labour, and all those children had been sent back to their home countries with their parents.

As a reward, in 2003 the UAE got put up into Tier 1 for one year for 'most improved.' Tier 1 is usually reserved for Western Europe (the US does not rate itself), so in 2004, the UAE was back to Tier 2, where, by the definitions of the report, it seemed to belong.

Then, in 2005, some nosy American tourist actually went to see a camel race, and the UAE was back in Tier 3, worst of the worst. Note that I said all the UAE newspapers reported that no one under 17 could be a camel jockey, that didn't mean that any of the five-year olds lost their jobs and got shipped home until they grew too big to continue racing, say seven or so.

The UAE response was a furious editorial that the US had absolutely no right to criticise other nations. The apoplectic article had no mention of any Arab nation being criticised, so I Googled the nations mentioned in the article, Bolivia, Burma, Cambodia, Cuba and a few others and found the report. The UAE and other GCC states then really banned child camel jockeys and replaced them all with remote-controlled devices, called robots, that steer and whip the camels.

By now, the US had broken the Tier 2, i.e., 'Ok, but could do better,' category into 2 and 2W, or, as the Brits might say, into a 2-1 and a 2-2. The 'W' stood for 'watch closely.' And, having verified that the children had finally been removed from the camel races, the US put the UAE back up to Tier 2W in 2006, where it remained for two years. In 2008, the UAE was promoted from 2W to 2, but for 2009, the UAE is back down to Tier 2W.

The UAE newspapers have reported that the government has set up elaborate facilities to guarantee that Human Trafficking is being throttled in the UAE, and that trafficked persons are regularly rescued. This has been a regular feature of the UAE newspapers for the last three years. The newspaper reports tend to focus on the police rescuing young women lured to the UAE by the promise of a legitimate job only to find that their employer was much like the first London employer of Fanny Hill. The newspapers also report improved conditions for the labourers.

But, after what happened with the boy jockeys, the US no longer gives much credence to statements about reforms in the labour law published in the local newspapers.

So, as usual, there was the requisite apoplectic article condemning the US report in all the local newspapers.

The irate article for 2009 says that the UAE is rated at an unfairly low level because the US keeps changing the definition of trafficking.

The definition of trafficking has always been:

(a) sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age; or (b) the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

One suspects that an article in the UK newspaper The Independent had something to do with the US giving the UAE a 2W rating.

The situation is not quite as universally appalling as The Independent suggested.

According to the article, labourers are lured to the UAE by fraud: they are promised huge salaries, then paid less than they were earning back in their home countries if they get paid at all. If true, this would clearly fit the definition of trafficking.

I am familiar with the median wages, and the labourers typically earn about five times as much in the UAE as in their home countries. As claimed, since they took large loans in order to obtain their position, they are indentured servants, but, for the most part, they were not defrauded. They knew that they would be leaving their families and earning no money for two or three years until the loan was paid off, then they understood that they would be sending four year's pay home every year after that until they turn 60 and go home to retire, rich by the standards of their home countries. There are reports of some unscrupulous employers who do not pay workers their full salary, and reports of employers who do not pay their workers at all, but these are exceptions rather than typical.

It is true, however, that when I first arrived in the UAE, a local paper had an article by a lawyer about local law for newcomers. A reader asked, 'My employer hasn't paid me for six months. What can I do?' Answer: 'Unless your employer gives you a written release, you must continue to work for the full term of your contract.' This, again, qualifies as trafficking.

That particular law, according to the local newspapers, has been changed: Workers who have not been paid have the right to complain to the labour authority, who can give them the written release from their employer they need in order to either take another job or legally leave the country.

It is also true that the US is not terribly consistent in how it applies and interprets the definition.

The definition covers all those who (in violation of UAE law) borrow money to buy their UAE visas and so come here as indentured servants who must hand over their salaries until they have repaid the loan. (But this is also true of some workers who go to the US on an H1B visa, but just because some people illegally pay to buy US H1B visas does not make the US guilty of Trafficking in Persons: US immigration routinely turns away Emerson's hobgoblin if it tries to get in.)

The current situation in the UAE, the real situation, would seem to be Tier 2: There are some abuses in the UAE; since the UAE has been making a reasonable effort to stop the abuses, it is not Tier 3; but, as the definition of Tier 2 says, the UAE could do better.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Reminders of my Father

As Jonathan Swift wrote back in the 18th century, taking disputes to the courts certainly resolves the disputes: He said he had a dispute about a horse, and, after the lawyers finished, the lawyers owned the horse, and Mr. Swift and the party he was either suing or being sued by no longer had a horse to argue about. It was not a resolution Mr. Swift appreciated, to judge by the tone of his essay.

Over the last year, two people I know found themselves mixed up in two separate disputes that they do not wish to take to court. They both want someone who will listen to their disputes and whose decision as to who owes what to whom will be respected.

This reminded me of my father, who was often called upon to play that role.

It's not an easy role to acquire, but everyone always seemed to accept my father's decision. And he never accepted the slightest remuneration for his services in these matters.

So people like my father tend to be in great demand but very short supply. Somehow, they must have a je ne sais quoi (and je ne sais how to get it) that makes all parties agree that their decision was fair and just, so the dispute is resolved without hard feelings or threats to go to court. It's a rare gift.

So, last year when these two friends, on two separate occasions for two completely unrelated disputes asked me if I knew someone who could play that role, I thought of my father.

He was only decent, honest arbiter I ever knew, and he is no longer with us.

And, as I do every year, I think about him today and what the world has lost.