A TV series called “Inside Dubai: Playground of the Rich” is currently showing on the BBC in the UK which features British people who have made Dubai their home, who are “soaking up the sun, glamour and tax-free benefits” of Dubai, “but must also follow the rules” of their host country and cope with “the frenetic pace of change.”
“Tax free luxury and oil” is the image most British people have of Dubai – particularly since the pandemic, when many British celebrities went to Dubai on holiday when allowed. They posted photographs of themselves enjoying the sunshine on Instagram with a backdrop of extravagant architecture behind them. But at the same time, there is discomfort that the British in Dubai are behaving in old fashioned colonialist ways, while many people of other ethnicities in Dubai are having a much tougher life. There is also a nervousness about human rights violations, and the strict rules on alcohol, adultery and homosexuality.
This image rather contrasts with the conclusions of a recent report from JETRO saying that Japanese companies were attracted to the Middle East as a place to develop business in renewable energy and decarbonization, with the UAE ranking second behind Saudi Arabia as the country of most interest.
I was already aware that the UAE was the biggest host of Japanese companies in the Middle East. I had visited there a couple of times a few years’ ago to provide cross cultural training to a Japanese bank there and spent some time trying to understand the cultural complexity of a society which has the highest proportion of immigrants in the world.
This knowledge came in useful recently, when I was asked by a Japanese energy company to support them in a diversity and inclusion training in the UAE. This was part of a wider initiative to be more inclusive, to listen to the ideas of all employees, regardless of age, gender or ethnicity, in order to encourage innovation, particularly with regard to decarbonization.
Dubai is currently hosting an Expo which is strongly emphasising ESG in its themes. There is a Programme for People and Planet, which is aimed at the “open exchange of new ideas and innovations,” placing equality, universal respect and human dignity at the centre of human progress.”
In preparation for being an expo host, and to encourage more foreign direct investment, the rulers in the UAE had already identified that a robust legal framework, which was more tolerant of diversity, was going to be necessary. There are now new laws on anti-harassment and anti-discrimination, particularly in the special economic zones, as well as a relaxation of alcohol laws and Islamic personal laws.
So I can now see why Japanese companies are feeling more positive towards the UAE again, both as a place to develop business, but also as country where the legal framework is coming more into line with the acceptance of the diversity that is needed for companies to change and evolve.
This article by Pernille Rudlin was first published in Japanese in the Teikoku News, 9th February 2022
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