New York University recently had a new campus built and given to the university for free in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) writes Jim Dwyer of the New York Times — and the generous gift may have come at a tremendous cost.
The campus being built for NYU was possible partially for the “cheap labor” of migrant workers used by the UAE. The migrant labor force is imported mostly from Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines.
“Nearly 16 months ago, about 3,000 construction workers on the island went on strike, many complaining that they had not received a wage increase in as long as eight years. They were making around $200 a month.”
The UAE said they would adopt reform legislation after the exploitation of the workers came to light 16 months ago, but trade unions are banned and workers have “no right to strike,” writes Dwyer.
Migrant workers have been flocking to UAE for the past few decades in search of employment and higher stands of living, according to Froilan T. Malit Jr. and Ali Al Youha of MigrationPolicy.org.
“With immigrants, who come particularly from India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, comprising over 90 percent of the country’s private workforce, the UAE attracts both low- and high-skilled migrants due to its economic attractiveness, relative political stability, and modern infrastructure”
The UAE has been “heavily reliant” on imported workers to sustain its economic growth and high standard of living. In 1971, the Kafala Sponsorship System, a temporary guest worker program, was introduced. Since its establishment, the system has caused numerous problems for both the UAE government and the workers being exploited.
“Over the past several years, the UAE government has substantively reformed its laws to address the concerns of those who condemn the Kafala system for exposing migrant workers, especially domestic workers, to abusive practices.”
Human Rights Watch has released the 82-page report “Migrant Workers’ Rights on Saadiyat Island in the United Arab Emirates: 2015 Progress Report” which entails the worker abuses on the Saadiyat Island site.
According to Humans Rights Watch’s website, the report details the work conditions of workers on Saadiyat Island, which includes withheld benefits, failed reimbursements, confiscated passports, and substandard housing.
“The progress in respecting workers’ rights on Saadiyat Island risks being tossed out the window if workers know they can’t protest when things go wrong, and are still getting stuck with recruitment fees and suffering other abuses,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director. “NYU, the Louvre, and the Guggenheim need to make clear that new laws and codes of conduct are only as good as their enforcement.”
According to David Batty of the Guardian, many workers were found living in slum like conditions and in one instance, 27 men were forced into 2 bedrooms.
“Video footage shows insects crawling around the kitchen, exposed electrical wires wrapped around a showerhead, and a hole punched in the fire escape door, which was locked.”
Saadiyat Island has been under construction since 2006, writes Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan of Gizmodo. The island is being developed by the UAE to be a cultural center and a “temple to lavish, luxe, yacht-borne life,” according the New York Times.
Every year since 2009 Human Rights Watch has released a a yearly report and has been “sounding the alarm” on human rights violations ever since the project started.