Last year, New York University came under fire for the treatment of laborers building its campus in the United Arab Emirates, a country where labor can look a lot like indentured servitude. In response, the university appointed an independent investigator, Nardello & Co. Its report is out today, and it found that approximately 10,000 workers who built the Abu Dhabi campus lacked the labor protections NYU had stipulated. Perhaps most disturbing, many workers, including those covered by NYU’s labor guidelines, had their passports taken and held by their employers, impeding the ability of the mostly foreign workforce to leave.
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.
“This practice of exempting companies from compliance created a significant gap in coverage that disenfranchised thousands of workers from the protections contemplated by the labor guidelines,” said the report, by the international investigative firm Nardello & Company. The investigation was requested by N.Y.U. and an Abu Dhabi government agency after reports, including an article last May in The New York Times, were published saying that many of the workers, most of them recruited from South Asia, had been charged steep recruitment fees to get their jobs; that few were being paid what they had been promised; and that some lived in miserable conditions, all in contravention of standards N.Y.U. had established for the project. Those guidelines were developed in response to concerns about the region’s reputation for mistreatment of its imported work force.
In statements made on Thursday, N.Y.U. said the report found that a majority of the construction force had been treated in accordance with the guidelines. But it said it was taken by surprise by the findings on how many workers at the campus, which opened last year on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island, had not been protected, and it added that it would repay any shortchanged workers.