NYU’s less than illustrious past in labor disputes is only amplified by current accusations in Shanghai. NYU spokesman John Beckman said the company NYU hired to ensure fair labor practices “did not perform as expansive a compliance review as NYU desired, nor did they produce the detailed report that NYU requested.” When NYU created its statements of labor values, it promised fair working conditions. NYU must follow through on that pledge by fully monitoring the construction of its foreign campuses and not placing blame on third parties. NYU must make labor conditions a higher priority and hold itself accountable for violations on its campuses.
This is hardly the first time NYU has faced allegations of poor labor practices. In May, news of harsh conditions at NYU Abu Dhabi surfaced with incidents of poor housing, violent strike-breaking and confiscated passports for immigrant workers. Despite NYU’s labor standards, NYUAD’s executive director of campus operations Margaret Bavuso said NYU was unable to offer protections to workers who were not hired specifically for university sites — including most of the construction workers used in Abu Dhabi, who outnumber non-construction workers 30 to one. NYU may have scored a labor victory by suspending its licensing contract with JanSport due to its parent company’s refusal to sign a fire-safety accord in Bangladesh, but this came after months of pressure from students and groups such as the Student Labor Action Movement.
So far, there is no explicit evidence of abuse at the Shanghai campus. There is a clear failure to adequately ensure the protection of overseas workers, however. According to The New York Times, some professors have been unsuccessfully seeking information on the monitoring of overseas sites for three years. Now, with bad publicity looming, NYU has declared that it expected a fully detailed report until recently. Meanwhile, the firm handling working conditions in Shanghai claims that this information was “not part of [its] original scope.” A second firm has been hired to retrospectively complete the desired report. In light of NYU’s history of poor labor practices, however, NYU Shanghai vice chancellor Jeffrey Lehman’s statement that these new auditors have found no problems has to be taken with a grain of salt.
The fact that university faculty members had such difficulty in obtaining information about Shanghai’s labor practices from the NYU administration shows that NYU must increase its transparency. Moreover, if the company NYU hired said the Statement of Labor values was not within the scope of the agreement, then NYU should have addressed this lack of communication much earlier. NYU will have to work long and hard to restore its credibility after its failure to oversee working conditions overseas.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Dec. 3 print edition. Email the Editorial Board at [email protected]