The news is full of accounts of people who have fallen foul of the law when working overseas.
Although, for many readers, these stories can provide a little online interest to mull over during a coffee break, for others, they are a stark reminder of the tragic repercussions that can happen when travelling with no understanding of local laws and culture.
Relocating expatriate staff around the world is business as usual for many global businesses. These businesses all differ however, in the priority given to staff safety and protection.
Cultural Awareness and Duty of Care for Expatriates
There are companies that go the whole hog and equip staff with an understanding of the host culture, an awareness of their own culture and where cultural differences are likely to lie and, critically, the host country’s laws, customs and expectations.
For less concerned companies however, expatriate staff are routinely relocated to countries that have radically different laws and cultures with no preparation at all. Not only does this fail the expatriate if they unwittingly break local laws, but it also fails their family members who have to deal with the emotional and financial fall out.
To illustrate this point, let’s look at some examples of individuals who have fallen foul of the law in the Middle East:
• A British man was arrested and jailed for over a year after being caught in possession of home-made wine while in Saudi Arabia. There were also fears that he would receive 350 lashes, although due to his age and health, the Saudi Arabian courts did not include them in the sentence.
• An Egyptian worker was arrested for having breakfast with a female Saudi Arabian colleague while working in the country. The employer was also charged with failing to regulate female placements at work.
• A British woman was arrested in Dubai for making defamatory remarks on social media about her ex-husband’s new wife.
• An expat worker of unknown nationality was arrested after speaking to a female Saudi woman who approached him in a fast food restaurant. He was charged and punished for having violated the kingdom’s norms and values.
• A British man was arrested and jailed for public indecency after touching a man in a bar in Dubai. He claims that it was a case of ‘cultural misunderstanding’ and that he had accidently brushed past the man without intending to touch him. He served three months in jail and spent over £32,000 in legal fees.
• A young British man was sentenced to six months in jail and his wife was deported back to Britain after he swore at someone during a road rage incident while in the UAE.
• A young couple, one of them British, were sentenced to a month in jail and subsequently deported after violating public decency laws by sharing a ‘peck on the cheek’ while in Dubai.
In all these incidences, had the individuals had a better understanding of local law, culture and customs, it’s unlikely that the they would have found themselves in such difficult positions.
The Saudi Public Prosecutor’s office and the authorities in the UAE have repeatedly posted warnings on social media and other platforms about the need for visiting foreigners to respect local culture, traditions and feelings.
In the case of the woman arrested for making defamatory remarks about her ex-husband’s new wife, UAE authorities re-issued a historic statement in which they warned people that they could face up to five years in prison for ‘producing, posting online, sending or saving materials that "violate public order, religious values, public morality, or the sanctity of personal life’.
The laws, values, customs and cultural expectations in these countries are clearly stated.
Unfortunately, however, relocating expatriates are not always aware of them which makes it a priority that businesses take responsibility for ensuring that adequate cultural training and preparation are given.