We’ve all heard reports of the fantastic wealth of certain Middle Eastern countries–the five-star hotels of ultimate luxury, man-made islands with whole housing estates on them, you name it. But do we really understand the scale of the growth that’s going on in oil-rich kingdoms like the United Arab Emirates? Here’s a fact for you: one out of every four cranes on Earth is located in Dubai. Well, technically, 24% of them. That amounts to around 30,000 cranes in an emirate just a little bigger than Rhode Island, and in which (as of last April) almost $300 billion in construction projects were underway.
But all that growth is coming at a human price. It is estimated that a full 85% of the UAE’s population are foreigners, many coming from poorer southeast Asian countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan to work low-level jobs in the booming construction field. Health agencies and human rights groups have roundly denounced labor practices there (which include companies trapping workers by holding their passports) and called for reforms to ameliorate what amounts in many cases to slave labor in the wealthy, sunny, booming emirate.