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Petitioning President John Sexton and the NYU Abu Dhabi Administration

NYUAD Needs to be Proactive about Fair Labor Standards on Saadiyat Island

Date: May 2014
To: President John Sexton, Vice Chancellor Al Bloom
From: Coalition for Fair Labor at NYU

We, the undersigned students and faculty, call on you to take steps to resolve the NYU community’s ongoing concerns about the rights and conditions of migrant workers in the UAE. 

In light of recent reports documenting violations of NYU’s Statement of Labor Values and UAE labor law, the Coalition for Fair Labor urges NYU to alter its monitoring arrangements and devote resources to protecting workers’ rights in the UAE. Although construction of NYUAD’s Saadiyat Island campus is almost complete, the building of other cultural and educational institutions on the island will continue for the next twenty years. Now that the NYU name is established in the UAE, we believe that our university has a responsibility to help address the formidable challenges confronting the heavily indebted workers who are laboring to realize the larger Saadiyat vision. 

Over the last four years, Human Rights Watch, Gulf Labor, The Guardian, and other independent investigators have found violations on the NYUAD project that Mott MacDonald failed to detect through its auditing practices. In 2008, the Coalition for Fair Labor advised the administration against the appointment of Mott MacDonald. Among the firm’s conflicts of interest was a 27 billion-dollar contract to oversee the power and water distribution systems on Saadiyat Island. As before, we ask that NYU hire a truly independent, third-party monitor, such as the Workers Rights Consortium (of which NYU is a member) to monitor the workforce operating and maintaining the new campus. NYU’s name cannot afford to be further tarnished by inattentive monitoring.

Second, we ask that NYU publicly release a code of conduct for all migrant domestic workers that are employed by NYUAD faculty, staff, and students. Domestic employees currently have no legislative labor protections in the UAE, and organizations like Human Rights Watch have documented their pervasive abuse and mistreatment. 

Finally, we ask that NYU utilize its student and faculty resources to develop research initiatives aimed at eliminating the hardships imposed on migrant workers by the kafala system. NYU can set a visible academic example by suggesting policy for reforming the current sponsorship system, with a view to ensuring that the welfare and the rights of migrant workers in the UAE are better upheld. We ask, in particular, that NYU devote resources to implementing the recommendations made by Gulf Labor in its May 2014 report, including, but not limited to, payment of a relocation fee for workers to settle their recruitment debts; formation of workers’ councils at NYUAD and on the surrounding island projects; establishment of a Saadiyat Island living wage to enable workers to select accommodation of their choosing; and cooperation with the ILO to help design and implement these and other recommendations.

We commend the administration’s recent decision to break ties with VF Corporation/Jansport given its commitment to supporting the highest global labor standards. In the same spirit, we urge to ensure that  NYU take a proactive role in the field of human rights as a way of fulfilling its academic mission abroad.

Respectfully,

Kristina Bogos, College of Arts and Science 2015
Andrew Ross, Social and Cultural Analysis
Edward Radzivilovskiy, Global Liberal Studies 2015
Emma Dolhai, Tisch School of the Arts 2016
Linnea Gregg, Tisch School of the Arts 2015
Isabelle Galet-Lalande, NYU Abu Dhabi 2016
Victor R. Li, Steinhardt 2015
John Archer, English
Paula Chakravarty, Gallatin
Stephen Duncombe, Gallatin
Jeff Goodwin, Sociology
Christine Harrington, Politics
Rebecca Karl, History and East Asian Studies
Marie Monaco, School of Medicine
Anna McCarthy, Cinema Studies
Mary Nolan, History
Kristina Mayman, College of Arts and Science 2015
Daniel Huang, Stern School of Business 2014
Carlos Estevez, College of Arts and Science 2014

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