Human Rights Watch Slams Abu Dhabi Museum Projects

The Louvre, the Guggenheim, and New York University are blamed.

Migrants often live in cramped, squalid conditions in the UAE.

Migrants often live in cramped, squalid conditions in the UAE.
Photo: Sergey Ponomarev, courtesy the New York Times.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) released its third report on human rights violations against migrant workers constructing Abu Dhabi’s ambitious Saadiyat Island project, Hyperallergic reported. The Island will be home to the Louvre and the Guggenheim’s Abu Dhabi outposts. New York University is also planning a campus on the site.

The 82-page report highlights a host of labor abuses and accuses the Emirati government authorities organizing the project, the Abu Dhabi Executive Affairs Authority (EAA) and the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC), of flagrant human rights abuses. The report also shows that the western institutions involved in the project have done little to curb the violations. (See Protest at New York’s Guggenheim Calls Attention to Labour Conditions at UAE Expansion, and Guggenheim Protestors Make It Rain in Frank Lloyd Wright Rotunda, and Demonstrators at Guggenheim Protest Labor Abuse in Abu Dhabi)

The report alleges that proposed labor reforms have either not been introduced, or are not enforced.

For example, the UAE’s 1980 labor reform legislation outlaws employers from charging recruitment fees. However, according to a series of 113 interviews with workers conducted by HRW, all had paid recruitment fees (see Artist Sneaks Into Future Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Site to Interview Workers).

Workers also revealed that the UAE government arbitrarily deports thousands of migrants for voicing grievances over unpaid wages or striking.

Other workers find themselves trapped in the UAE. The Emirate charges migrants with high fines for expired papers. One worker described how his employer confiscated his passport after he asked for four months unpaid salary, and then charged him for an expired work permit leaving him unable to go home.

In addition, wages are very low. Most interviewed workers said they earned between $190 and $327 a month depending on hours.

The report concludes that the blame must be shared by the UAE and the western institutions involved. It states, “Businesses should respect all human rights, avoid complicity in abuses, and adequately remedy them if they occur” (see The Guggenheim Refuses to Answer Questions About Gulf Workers).

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