Report describes forced labour in NYU Abu Dhabi construction

15 May 2018 00:54


A recently released report by labour NGO Coalition for Fair Labor argues that New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) “likely permitted forced labor conditions for thousands of workers in construction of its campus”. It provides evidence suggesting that NYU and the Government of Abu Dhabi did not take reasonable steps to eliminate the risk of forced labour.

Like other Gulf states, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) practices the kafala system for its eight million migrant workers, which gives employers significant control over workers’ lives by directly sponsoring the employer’s visa status. Passports are often withheld, and power to end the relationship rests with the employer (in response to a wide range of conduct).
A May 2014 New York Times article on forced labour brought the issue to public attention, beginning with UAE police violently repressing a strike including NYUAD workers that lead to the deportation of “hundreds of workers”.

The article provoked a response from the University, which engaged law firm Nardello & Co. to author a report, which revealed that its guidelines failed to protect the rights of around 10,000 workers engaged at the campus. It said that the University had excluded a group of workers from its labour protections (resulting in significant loss of wages), and that around 200 workers had been deported due to strike action.

The May 2018 report looks more closely at the legal and human rights responsibilities resting on international investors, and the steps they ought to take to ensure their labour supply chain complies with international standards. It also provides a fascinating history of the development of UAE labour law and the state of working conditions in the construction sector there for migrant workers.

The Coalition for Fair Labor is a faculty-student alliance at NYU that has promoted solidarity with worker solidarity since its launch after the announcement of the Abu Dhabi campus in 2007. They documented the alleged mistreatment of workers employed on Saadiyat Island construction projects including the NYUAD project.