Human Rights Campaigners Force Suspension of World Coffee Championship in Dubai
Following a report on human rights abuses in the UAE by coffee news website Sprudge, World Coffee Events announced the suspension of planning for the World Coffee Championship that was supposed to be taking place in Dubai in 2018.
World Coffee Events, the competition body of Speciality Coffee Association (SCA), chose the UAE as one of the host countries for the 2018 World Coffee Championships. A series of different championships, including the World Brewers Cup, World Cup Tasters Championship, and World Coffee Roasting Championship, were to take place in Dubai as part of the Dubai International Hospitality Week, which is set to attract 50,000 visitors.
After the announcement, Sprudge released an article detailing human rights abuses in the UAE. SCA immediately issued a statement on September 11 acknowledging the fact that human rights issues in the UAE were not taken into consideration during the selection process:
“This is a serious problem that shows that our selection process was not broad or inclusive enough and we at the SCA intend to correct it. For this reason, we have decided to suspend further planning on these four events in Dubai while we consult with the Boards of Directors of the SCA and the WCE.”
The first issue Sprudge raises is that of the kafala system, arguing that the visa sponsorship system for migrant workers that underlies it amounts to modern day slavery. Employers act as the sponsors of their workers, and they effectively have complete control over them. Often, workers do not get paid for months without any explanation, whilst their passports are usually held by their employers. Consequently they are left stranded in the UAE, labouring under inhumane conditions.
There is no legal framework to protect the rights of migrant workers, who make up about 90% of the UAE’s population. Human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have long documented the exploitation and abuse of migrant workers, especially female domestic workers.
The second issue Sprudge mentions is the ongoing discrimination against the LGBTQ community. In the UAE, everything on the sexuality spectrum except for heterosexuality is forbidden by law and any intercourse outside of heterosexual marriage can lead to arrest.
Sprudge gives numerous examples of the Emirati regime’s discriminatory practices towards the LGBTQ community. There have been many cases in recent years of both Emirati and non-Emirati citizens being detained in the UAE on the basis of their sexual orientation.
In light of these issues, Sprudge labelled Dubai a “controversial choice to host an international specialty coffee event.”
Migrant labour exploitation and state sanctioned homophobia are not the only violations of international human rights law occurring in the UAE. There are also heavy restrictions on freedom of speech, the media is tightly controlled and censored by the government and even a simple post on social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter can lead to arrest.
Similar to Sprudge’s call to stop Dubai from hosting the coffee championships, a campaign was launched by ICFUAE in February 2017 encouraging authors invited to the literature festival in Dubai to take a stand against the Emirati regime’s violation of the right to freedom of speech.
Calls like Sprudge’s demonstrate that the international community are beginning to take note of human rights violations in the UAE. In recent years, there have been growing calls to boycott the country due to its non-compliance of human rights law. This is leading international companies to think twice about collaboration for fear of public outcry.
However, despite this, the British government maintains close relations with the UAE. In order for there to be effective change, it is imperative that future trade deals between the two nations are conditional on the basis of the UAE’s adherence to international human rights standards.
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