How did New York University uphold workers' rights during the construction and operation of its Abu Dhabi satellite campus?

In 2007, New York University announced plans to open a satellite campus in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Construction of the $1 billion campus on Saadiyat Island commenced in 2010. In advance of the campus' construction, NYU released a set of labour guidelines, known as the Statement of Labor Values, which sought to ensure that migrant workers involved in the construction of NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) would be treated and compensated fairly. 

Throughout the construction of the NYUAD campus, journalists and human rights groups documented the alleged mistreatment of workers employed on Saadiyat Island construction projects, including the NYUAD project. An investigation by The New York Times in May 2014 documented the deplorable treatment of NYU workers, including allegations of the unlawful deportation of hundreds for striking. In the UAE, migrant workers are denied fundamental labour rights, such as the right to strike and collectively bargain. In response to the Times' investigation and other reports, NYU commissioned the global law firm Nardello & Co to conduct an independent review into the allegations of abuse brought forth by the media.

Nardello & Co released its report in April 2015, which revealed that NYU’s labour guidelines failed to protect 10,000 of the 30,000 workers employed on the NYUAD campus project. One of the project’s main contractors, the government-owned real estate company Mubadala, devised an exemption policy that excluded workers employed on projects valued less than $1 million and those working on sites for less than 31 days at a time from the university's labour protections. The total number of workers who fell under this category totalled 10,000. The report also found that an estimated 25,000 workers paid recruitment fees as high as $3000 and were never reimbursed, and corroborated the allegation that at least 200 workers in connection with the NYUAD project were deported for striking. 

In light of these findings, NYU announced a wage remediation program designed to compensate the short-changed workers. While NYUAD and its government partners did not make the minimum monthly wage for their workers public throughout the construction of the Saadiyat Island campus, the Nardello & Co report revealed that the minimum wage was set at $217 a month. NYU’s government partners had commissioned a study to determine a wage suitable for the NYUAD project, stating that a monthly wage of $217 was "benchmarked to the highest wages in the region" and citing an average wage of $177 a month.

As of 1 May 2017, the university and its partners had compensated 6600 workers for this back pay, with 2000 more identified as eligible for wage remediation. While the remediation procedures are a step forward, NYU's compensation program excludes recruitment fees, despite the fact that NYU’s labour guidelines stipulate that employers are to cover the costs of recruitment, as well as the deported workers from the reimbursement scheme.   

In May 2018, the Coalition for Fair Labor – a group of NYU faculty members and students – released a report claiming that NYUAD failed to mitigate forced labor risks in respect of f thousands of workers throughout the construction and operations of its campus from 2010 to the present. NYU disagreed with the report, saying it was "neither right nor fair." NYU subsequently released its third-party verifer compliance report conducted by Impactt Limited. The Impactt Limited report found “a good level of compliance among contractors and a high level of satisfaction among workers.”

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Article
12 May 2018

N.Y.U. Promised Reforms in Abu Dhabi. Report Says It Has Reneged.

Author: David W. Chen, The New York Times

When investigators reported in 2015 that 10,000 migrant construction workers employed at New York University’s campus in Abu Dhabi had not been paid money they were owed, and were subject to substandard working conditions, the university vowed to reimburse the workers and provide regular updates on its compliance with labor standards. Three years later, thousands of workers may still be owed millions of dollars. And until this week, the university had not released a compliance report. Or so contends a report released Thursday by the Coalition for Fair Labor, a group of N.Y.U. faculty members and students that has long been critical of the Abu Dhabi project and its labor practices... But N.Y.U. strongly challenged the report, saying that it was “neither right nor fair” and that its title — “Forced Labor at N.Y.U. Abu Dhabi” — was “both incorrect and inflammatory... [W]e disagree with the report’s findings, which are not based on primary evidence”... When asked about the coalition’s findings, N.Y.U. immediately released its long-awaited compliance report, which it said had been scheduled for release in June. That report, prepared by Impactt Limited, an ethical-trade consultancy based in London, was based on interviews with more than 500 workers in Abu Dhabi. And overall, the... report found “a good level of compliance among contractors and a high level of satisfaction among workers”...

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Report
10 May 2018

External Labor Compliance Monitoring at NYUAD Report

Author: Impactt Limited

... In 2015 NYUAD and its Abu Dhabi partner appointed Impactt Limited as the third-party verifier of labor compliance at the NYUAD Project. This report covers the period from December 2015 to March 2017 with further follow-up audits in August 2017 and remote desktop reviews in March 2018. It presents and analyzes the findings of Impactt’s compliance monitoring activities and the stakeholder interviews carried out to understand the Project’s commitment to enforcing their labor standards... Impactt’s third-party verification of compliance with the NYUAD Project labor standards identified a good level of compliance among contractors and a high level of satisfaction among workers. Impactt’s initial audits identified 87 non-conformances... Impactt carried out follow-up audits of contractors to assess their progress in rectifying nonconformances... In the follow-up audits, contractors closed 77 of 87 non-conformances (89%) and made progress in rectifying 2 of 87 nonconformances (2%). A total of 10 non-conformances remain open (11%),2 of which 7 could not be closed as the contractors were no longer operational on the NYUAD campus at the time of Impactt’s follow-up audit. As part of worker interviews during compliance audits, Impactt carried out a survey to measure the degree to which workers are satisfied with their jobs. The average score across all satisfaction results was 4.02 (in the baseline survey) and 4.35 (in the latest follow-up survey) on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being best...

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Article
10 May 2018

Forced labor at NYU Abu Dhabi: Compliance and the cosmopolitan university

Author: Sahiba Gill, Coalition for Fair Labor

... In this report, we show that NYUAD likely permitted forced labor conditions for thousands of workers in construction of its campus; in its operations from 2010 through present day, it has run and continues to run an unacceptable risk of forced labor... The central concern of this report is NYUAD procurement and supply chain policies that fail to ensure fair, humane, and legal working conditions for contracted employees of NYUAD. As this report documents, the construction of the NYUAD Saadiyat Island campus likely entailed forced labor. Misinterpretations of its own labor standards, including laws and standards for the monitoring of labor conditions has meant that NYU has run an unreasonable risk of employing forced labor in its operations; despite a new set of public labor standards, policies fail to reasonably eliminate the risk of forced labor in NYUAD operations through the present day. NYU has not provided redress for the thirty thousand plus individuals who have likely been harmed as a result of NYUAD allowing significant errors in implementation of its labor standards, nor has it implemented best practices to reasonably guarantee non-repetition moving forward...

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Item
1 May 2017

NYU-Tamkeen Joint Statement on Wage Remediation

Author: New York University Abu Dhabi

Currie & Brown, a global construction consultancy, were appointed in June 2015 as the project’s independent administrators to identify and find the relevant workers and to make the payments...The overall approach employed several strategies to identify, contact, and pay the workers, beginning with employer outreach, and concluding with direct outreach to workers. The process involved several thousand phone calls and pieces of correspondence with employers; 1,000 visits to more than 260 worker accommodation sites by a team of multilingual staff; an advertising campaign including the distribution of posters and flyers in seven languages; and a toll-free SMS and 24/7 hotline service to allow workers who had seen the posters to reach out directly. To-date 8,600 workers have been identified; of these 6,600 have been paid, and 2,000 are eligible to be paid pending further contact details. The vast majority of the 2,000 are believed to have returned to their home countries, and we are contacting those for whom we have mailing addresses – approximately 1,500 individuals. The active phase of the program will end this summer, however individual claims will continue to be processed when they are received.

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Item
1 November 2016

NYU Abu Dhabi Supplier Code of Conduct

Author: New York University Abu Dhabi

New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) and its government partner are committed to ensuring fair working and living conditions for employees of service providers and contractors who work at the NYUAD campus. NYUAD and its government partner developed this Supplier Code of Conduct, which is generally based on UAE law, to reflect and uphold that commitment. NYUAD and its government partner will ensure that each service provider and contractor whose employees work at the NYUAD campus is contractually obligated to comply with this Supplier Code of Conduct. All service providers and contractors who work at the NYUAD campus will be required to ensure that any subcontractors they engage to work on the NYUAD campus will also be contractually obligated to comply with this Supplier Code of Conduct...

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Article
24 April 2015

NYU set to compensate thousands of migrant workers on Abu Dhabi complex

Author: David Batty, The Guardian (UK)

New York University (NYU) has pledged to compensate thousands of migrant workers who built its new campus in Abu Dhabi after an investigation found that roughly a third were excluded from safeguards intended to stop them from being abused and exploited. About 10,000 people were not covered by the university’s labour guidelines, which were meant to protect them from exploitative conditions including forced labour, poor wages, illegal recruitment fees and associated debts, squalid living conditions, and abuse and harassment, according to a report by the international investigations firm Nardello & Co...In a joint statement, NYU and Tamkeen...accepted that the system was flawed, adding that they would provide compensation to the excluded workers in “line with what they should have received under our labor standards”...It added that a third party would be appointed to reimburse the affected workers, who also include some not paid their full wages despite being covered by the guidelines. 

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Article
16 April 2015

N.Y.U. Labor Guidelines Failed to Protect 10,000 Workers in Abu Dhabi, Report Says

Author: Stephanie Saul, New York Times (USA)

About one-third of the migrant construction workers employed at New York University’s campus in Abu Dhabi — or about 10,000 people — were excluded from the protections of the university’s labor guidelines ensuring fair wages, hours and living conditions, according to an investigative report issued on Thursday. The 72-page report said that some subcontractors were exempted from the guidelines based on decisions made by local contractors running the operation. One of those contractors was Mubadala, a real estate company owned by the government of Abu Dhabi...“That error, for which we take full responsibility, was inconsistent with the project’s publicly stated commitment to ensure that all of those working on the construction of the N.Y.U.A.D. Saadiyat Campus would be covered by our standards and compliance-monitoring program,” an N.Y.U. statement said. 

The university said that a third party would be hired to handle reimbursement of the workers...The exceptions to the guidelines were initially designed to apply to a narrow group, such as vendors delivering goods to the project. Mubadala and other contractors later expanded the exceptions to include subcontractors whose work fell below $1 million or who worked on-site for less than 31 days at a time, or with gaps of 30 days between visits, the report said...[H]ardly any of the workers had been reimbursed for fees, generally $1,000 to $3,000, that the workers had paid to recruitment agents in their home countries. The report estimated that more than 25,000 workers would have qualified for the reimbursement...The investigation also found that 30 percent of workers said they had to give up their passports to employers as a condition of working at the campus, a violation of the N.Y.U. labor guidelines.

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Item
16 April 2015

NYU-Tamkeen Joint Statement on Nardello & Co. Report

We welcome the publication of Nardello & Co.’s report, which confirms that Tamkeen and NYU made good faith efforts to set and enforce standards that protected and benefited the substantial majority of the approximately 30,000 individuals who worked on the construction of the NYU Abu Dhabi campus...The report also identifies that the organizations responsible for the project allowed a compliance gap to occur, which resulted in some subcontractors, employed by the project’s master contractor, falling outside of the project’s labor guidelines and compliance oversight...That error – for which we take responsibility – was inconsistent with the project’s publicly stated commitment to ensure that all of those working on the construction of the NYUAD Saadiyat Campus would be covered by our standards and compliance-monitoring program. Accordingly, we will provide payment to those workers who were not covered by the compliance-monitoring program to bring their compensation into line with what they should have received under our labor standards...As a means to be part of the solution around the recruitment fees challenge...the [NYU Abu Dhabi] Institute will launch a research initiative to develop greater understanding of this significant issue. 

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Report
10 February 2015

UAE: Abuses at NYU, Louvre, Guggenheim Project

Author: Human Rights Watch

Serious concerns about workers’ rights have not been resolved for a high-profile project in Abu Dhabi that will host branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums and a campus of New York University (NYU), Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. These institutions should make their continued engagement with the Saadiyat Island project contingent on the developers’ commitment to more serious enforcement of worker protections and the compensation of workers who suffered abuses, including those arbitrarily deported after they went on strike...Workers from BK Gulf, a contractor at the NYU site, and Arabtec, a contractor at the Louvre site, told Human Rights Watch that the UAE authorities arbitrarily detained and deported several hundred workers in separate and unrelated strikes in May and October 2013.

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Article
26 June 2014

Labor Conditions at N.Y.U.’s Abu Dhabi Campus to Be Investigated by U.S. Firm

Author: Ariel Kaminer, New York Times (USA)

New York University and the government of Abu Dhabi said this week that an investigative firm headed by a former federal prosecutor had been hired to conduct an inquiry into labor conditions at the university’s new Middle East campus. The move comes a month after The New York Times reported on widespread labor abuses in the construction of N.Y.U. Abu Dhabi, which opens to students in the fall. The firm, Nardello & Company, which has offices around the world, will “conduct an independent review of allegations of labor violations,” N.Y.U. announced on Wednesday, “with a focus on those recently reported in the media.”

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