Nardello & Co., an independent investigative firm hired by NYU and Tamkeen, an Abu Dhabi government agency, to review allegations of labor violations at the NYU Abu Dhabi campus, released their report Thursday morning. Investigators confirmed that while NYU’s labor standards applied to 20,000 of the 30,000 workers employed during the construction of the Saadiyat Island campus, the remaining 10,000 laborers were subject to labor rights abuses committed by several subcontractors NYU hired.
NYU said it plans to compensate the migrant construction workers who were not protected under the university’s labor rights policy and also apply the investigator’s recommendations, including enforcing sanctions for compliance violations and restricting employers from taking away workers’ passports, where possible.
The report showed that one third of the workers were not treated according to NYU’s labor standards due to a de facto exemption policy, but concluded that the university and Tamkeen were not aware of the problem.
NYU President John Sexton said in an email that the university was not aware of the policy in place and plans to ensure violations like these do not occur in the future.
“Neither we nor Tamkeen knew about the exemption policy or how widely it was being applied (roughly one-third of the workers — about 10,000 people — worked for contractors deemed exempt from the rules),” Sexton said. “Both we and Tamkeen commit to ensuring that we will not allow such a compliance gap to occur in the future.”
Despite their shortcomings, the report showed that NYU tried to comply with the labor standards, including the provision of fair wages, compensation for overtime work and protection against harassment or abuse.
“Reports by several newspapers and Non-Governmental Organizations have alleged that many workers on the campus construction project were not treated in accordance with the guidelines and implied that NYU and its government partners merely paid lip service to their commitment,” the report reads. “Our investigation found that the commitment was real, implemented in good faith and, to a large measure, effective.”
Paula Chakravartty, Gallatin professor and member of Coalition for Fair Labor at NYU, said the report verified the problems CFL had identified and implored the university to implement the investigators’ recommendations.
“We hope that the public acknowledgement of violations of labor standards for some 10,000 workers involved in the building of the NYUAD campus, the ongoing issues around crushing recruitment debt and lack of mechanisms for worker representation make it clear that meaningful changes are urgently needed,” Chakravartty said.
In response to the email Sexton sent to the NYU community, the NYU Abu Dhabi Justice Coalition, a coalition of students, faculty, and workers at NYU, released a statement regarding the abuses. The coalition said NYU should commit itself to ensuring labor abuses never happen again on its campus and securing the rights of all current and future workers to strike, organize and bargain collectively.
“While we endorse the report’s recommendations for a third-party labor standards compliance monitor and a confidential, robust grievance procedure for workers on Saadiyat Island, this is no substitute for genuine, institutionally-protected collective bargaining,” the statement reads. “As long as NYU continues to operate uncritically within a system so hostile to workers’ right to organize, a compliance gap will always exist — and will undermine the possibility of labor peace in future NYUAD operations.”
The United Arab Emirates government has barred from entry or penalized its critics, like professor Andrew Ross, in the past. However, Nardello & Co. founder Daniel Nardello, who led the inquiry, said the investigators did not run into such problems.
“We had no contacts with the government in a hostile manner,” Nardello said. “We were left to do our job and as far as I know were not banned from the country.”
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 20 print edition. Email Alanna & Marita at [email protected]