Gridlock: Labor, Migration, and Human Trafficking in Dubai
Pardis Mahdavi
(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011), 264 pages.

In Gridlock, Pardis Mahdavi explores the social issues of labor migration in Dubai—a topic less visible than those that make up the daily headlines on the Middle East. The book is a mix of Mahdavi’s personal experiences in the Emirate and a scholarly discourse on trafficking policy and its associated political pressures. Peppered throughout with the stories of labor migrants from a variety of backgrounds and working in a diversity of sectors, the book aims for both breadth and academic depth. The former goal works ultimately to the detriment of the latter, as Mahdavi retreads the same ground several times. Nevertheless, the book serves as an important look at a key international issue from a perspective that policy makers may be ignoring.

Current U.S. policy regarding the issue of trafficking centers on the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report—the government’s “principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking.” Mahdavi’s central thesis relates to her opinions on the use of this report which, at the time of her writing, was primarily used as a diplomatic tool for leveraging political bargaining power against countries such as Dubai with a “known” record of poor human rights. She believes that the TIP report holds a great deal of potential to expand beyond a bargaining tool and can instead be used for enacting true reform in trafficking and migration policy. For this to come about, however, Mahdavi believes that governments need a broader understanding of trafficking beyond their current focus on female sex workers. The accounts of labor migrants in her book serve as a survey of other types of trafficked persons.

Though Gridlock’s organization may feel more like a collection of essays than a singular, focused work, Mahdavi explores this complex, multifaceted issue from a unique perspective. The breadth of her research appears broader than the views of most policy makers involved in this issue and presents a compelling case for policy reform, with direct social consequences for a multitude of labor migrants from around the globe.