New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Coalition for Fair Labor at New York University (NYU) have launched a campaign calling on NYU to make migrant worker protection a priority in upcoming negotiations with Abu Dhabi authorities responsible for the development and construction of the university's new campus on Abu Dhabi's Saadiyat Island.
By 2020 Saadiyat Island intends to host six globally recognized academic and cultural institutions (including NYU, the Louvre, the Guggenheim Museum and a Zaha Hadid designed performing arts center), 29 hotels, golf courses, private residences and a marina. As these international academic and cultural institutions come to represent hallmarks for cultural exchange in the region, minimum respect for the rights of workers should be a precursor to etablishing a presence in the UAE.
In May 2009 Migrant Rights reported the publication of HRW's report 'The Island of Happiness' on Saadiyat Island, which showed how workers constructing the $25 billion island were subjected to violations such as passport confiscation, coercive contractual circumstances and inadequate health and safety protection.
Workers incur heavy debts at home in order to pay uncrupulous agents illegal recruitment fees in return for the promise of jobs with wages up to two times the salaries offered once the workers get to the UAE. The cycle of exploitation continues as the sponsorship system prevents workers from switching employer. This system, coupled with workers' heavy debts amounts to a situation akin to foced labor. The prohibition of trade unions means workers have limited access to recourse.
NYU must be encouraged to uphold world-class standards in the construction and day-to-day operations of its new campus in Abu Dhabi. At present, construction has not yet begun on NYU's main campus on Saadiyat Island so NYU has the opportunity to ensure that fair labor is a prioirty in contractual agreements with local partners in the UAE. Human Rights Watch and The Coalition for Fair Labor at NYU are urging the university's administration to include specific contractual provisions that protect workers from abuse.
The HRW-NYU campaign includes a petition http://www.hrw.kintera.org/nyu urging NYU President Jon Sexton to remember the plight of vulnerable workers in upcoming negotiations with Abu Dhabi authorities. Please sign this petition to show support for the HRW-NYU Saadiyat Island campaign.