Educational institutions fail to respond to questions on migrant worker welfare in Qatar & UAE operations

Image: © Andrew Holbrooke

Executive Summary

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited 19 schools with campuses in the UAE and Qatar to participate in a survey on their policies and processes for ensuring the welfare of migrant workers in their global operations and supply chains. None of the schools we contacted participated in our survey. 

Our outreach included prominent US and UK universities with satellite campuses in the region. Several of them have public commitments to fair labour practices in licensing apparel, such as Northwestern University, while others like the London Business School have reported under the UK Modern Slavery Act, stating its commitment "to striving to ensure that there is no slavery or human trafficking in its own business and its supply chains." London Business School also shared with us that it "operates from the Dubai International Financial Centre's (DIFC) gate village building 2, level 3 [and] use the shared teaching facilities at the premises". The school has contacted DIFC to complete the survey; DIFC has not yet responded. In our correspondence with Masdar Institute of Technology, the school stated that "Masdar Institute is now merged with Khalifa University and Petroleum Institute."

Georgetown University, in declining to participate in our survey, issued the following statement:

"Georgetown has been committed to the fair and just treatment of all workers on our campus. We hold our contractors to the Qatar Foundation's Mandatory Standards of Migrant Workers’ Welfare for Contractors & Sub-Contractors, and we continuously review our policies and practices to ensure labor standards and practices that align with our values as a Catholic and Jesuit institution."

The complete lack of participation is woefully inadequate. Such deafening silence raises serious questions about what steps, if any, educational institutions in both countries are taking to ensure that the human and labour rights of migrant workers employed at their campuses are respected.

University Country of Operation Headquarters Response Public Code of Conduct
 Abu Dhabi University  UAE  UAE  No  No
 Brighton College  UAE  UK  No Dignity at Work; Equal Opportunity
 Carnegie Mellon  Qatar  USA  No Code of Workplace Conduct for Trademark Licensees
 Georgetown University  Qatar  USA  No Code of Conduct for Georgetown University Licensees
 Hamad bin Khalifa University  Qatar  Qatar  No  No
 HEC Paris  Qatar  France  No  No
 Khalifa University-Masdar Institute of Technology  UAE  UAE  No  No
 London Business School  UAE  UK  No UK Modern Slavery Act Statement
 New York Institute of Technology  UAE  USA  No  No
 Northwestern University  Qatar  USA  No Fair Labor Practices and Workers' Rights;
Vendor Code of Conduct
 Paris-Sorbonne University  UAE  France  No  No 
 Qatar University   Qatar  Qatar  No  No
 Texas A&M  UAE  USA  No  No
 UAE University  UAE  UAE  No  No
 University of Sharjah  UAE  UAE  No  No
 University of Wollongong  UAE  Australia  No Employment Equity and Workplace Diversity Policy;
Workplace Health and Safety Policy
 Virginia Commonwealth University  Qatar  USA   No VCU Code of Conduct
 Weill Cornell  Qatar  USA  No Workplace Code of Conduct
 Zayed University  UAE  UAE  No  No

Background

A crucial component of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates’ shift to knowledge-based economies is the government’s expansion of the education sector, which includes greater investment in local universities and the funding of satellite campuses of world-renowned schools, such as New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD). 

Low-skilled migrant workers from South Asia, Southeast Asia and Sub Saharan Africa constitute a large portion of operational staff at these campuses, where they are employed as cleaners, security guards, and construction workers, among other professions. The highly stratified labour market in the Gulf countries and an employee sponsorship system known as kafala create work and living conditions that render low-skilled migrant workers vulnerable to labour exploitation. 

Institutions of higher education can find themselves complicit in such abuse, which can pose significant ethical and reputational risks. For example, numerous investigations conducted by human rights groups and prominent media outlets revealed that migrant workers building the NYUAD campus were subject to a variety of abuses, including wage withholding, deportation, and inadequate accommodation, among others.

The  case of NYUAD, the increasing attention paid to  labour rights  ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, and recent changes to the UAE and Qatar’s sponsorship systems and labour laws are placing increasing expectations and responsibilities on institutions, such as universities, to ensure the welfare of low-skilled migrant workers in their supply chains and global operations. 

In light of the well-documented abuse of migrant workers in the UAE and Qatar, and the increasing number of universities operating in the two countries and the surrounding Gulf region, we set out to survey schools on their human and labour rights policies and the steps they take to prevent harmful impacts. 

What did we ask educational institutions?

We approached the 19 universities with 17 questions on their policies and processes for respecting the human and labour rights of migrant workers employed in their global operations and supply chains, with a focus on their campuses in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The questionnaire is available below: 

Qatar Survey | UAE Survey

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