Vice in Dubai: A look at publicity, offshore labour, and journalistic consequences

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Donald Trump
Vice Trump
The vice.com writer ambushed Donald Trump with an unwelcome question about offshore construction labour in Dubai.

This story about a Vice.com  writer’s brief confrontation with Donald Trump in Dubai is something of an eye-opener. The writer broke the rules, attending a puff-up media event for Trump to announce one of his projects, to raise a question about the purported exploitation of migrant construction labourers. The issue, touching on the world’s incredible economic disparities and the playoff between wealth and poverty, journalistic inquiry and freedom and, well, safer stuff, relates to values conflicts and perceptions. Do we know our limits, when to ask the right questions, and what to do if the answers aren’t the ones we are seeking?

In a more pragmatic sense, however, this story invites us to look at possible public relations disasters or opportunities when we live on the edge. If things go wrong — if you have safety violations or perhaps have used foreign worker employment programs to possibly under-pay for skilled labour — you could run up against a party-crashing reporter like this one.

In this case, I doubt that Donald Trump or his local handlers suffered any real harm. The journalist was an outlier — and, if she isn’t deported, would soon leave the country. But things aren’t always so easy when the gang-pack goes after you. It isn’t fun for anyone to be on the withering end of the negative media spotlight.

There are no easy moral conclusions here. I increasingly work with foreign contractors for services such as writing, transcription, website maintenance and the like, at pay levels that would totally violate Canadian minimum wage laws. Of course, the contractors remain in their home countries, so there is no issue with visible and exploited construction labour. I don’t feel wrong in working with these contractors — we free up Canadian and U.S. employees and contractors for higher-level work or provide them with support they would otherwise not receive — and the money certainly I’m sure is appreciated in the receiving country.

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