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Workers on Abu Dhabi Guggenheim Project Exploited

On May 25, 2009

Construction workers building a luxury island resort in Abu Dhabi which is to house branches of the Guggenheim Museum and New York University are underpaid and abused, according a human rights investigation. Indian labourers working on the $18 billion development are subject to a system of bonded labour and are saddled with the debt burdens they ran up in order to take up their jobs- often as large as £2600, according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW). Workers who try to leave before the project is completed are threated with fines by their employers, claimed the report.

While workers struggle to pay off debts, often secured against land or homes back home with exorbitant interest rates, their employers often fail to deliver basic wages or overtime pay.

HRW researcher Bill Van Esveld managed to sneak into the labour camp to interview 90 workers about conditions, and discovered that even though the UAE bans many forms of exploitation of migrant workers, such as the payment of hefty recruitment fees, laws were not enforced on the site.

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East Director for HRW said:

"The museums and NYU should insist that their local development partners guarantee workers' basic rights. These international institutions need to show that they will not tolerate or benefit from the gross exploitation of these migrant workers."

The Tourism Development and Investment Company, a government-owned developer, rejected HRW's report and claimed that the it contained "misleading assertions and false assumptions due to questionable methodology and flawed research"

Nevertheless, the HRW's allegations have caused an international media storm. While the local papers have been quick to dismiss the HRW report, the story has featured in major publications and news services accross the world such as the FT and Reuters.