An NYU-commissioned investigation into labor conditions during the construction of NYU Abu Dhabi's campus found that about a third of workers—roughly 10,000 individuals—worked unwanted and ill-compensated overtime hours, were forced to contend with poor housing conditions, had their passports illegally taken and held by their employers, and were not paid in a timely fashion, among other violations.
According to the report [pdf], conducted by investigative firm Nardello & Co and commissioned by both NYU and the government of Abu Dhabi after the Times and others reported on the deplorable labor conditions last year, the companies who employed workers on construction projects mostly adhered to the labor guidelines the University created back in 2009, in an effort to ensure workers received fair compensation, hours and living conditions.
But though the report contends that "the majority of workers on the Main Campus Project, to varying degrees, benefited from the protections of the Labor Guidelines," about 30 to 35 percent of employees suffered abuse.
The Times report alleged that construction workers were subject to forceful deportation, squalid living conditions, poor wages, forced overtime, and paid recruitment fees that were never reimbursed. The Nardello report "corroborated many of the allegations leveled by the media and [Non-Governmental Organizations] and found that the implementation of the standards was flawed," confirming that at least a percentage of workers suffered the abuses detailed by the Times.
Per the report, the guidelines laid out by the University did not cover workers who were employed by certain local contractors, creating "a significant gap in coverage that disenfranchised thousands of workers from the protections contemplated by the Labor Guidelines."
This is especially problematic, considering the guidelines were drawn up to protect all workers from being preyed upon by a nation that's been repeatedly accused of abusing and exploiting laborers.
Though it's unclear how much NYU knew about the labor guideline exemptions, NYU President John Sexton addressed the report in an email to the school community today:
The bottom line is that while the media and NGO reports were not representative of the treatment of most workers on the project, they did point to what the Nardello & Co. report identified as an unfortunate reality: approximately one-third of those working on the project, and in particular those workers who were employed by firms that were exempted from the labor standards, did not receive the benefit of the project’s standards.
According to a statement from NYU, the University blames itself for failing to protect all of the workers. "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," the statement read.
The Nordello report recommended, among other things, that the University abolish exemptions that allow workers to remain uncovered by the guidelines; penalize employers who violate the guidelines; hire a compliance monitor to ensure the guidelines are adhered to; and conduct more worker interviews and payroll audits to make sure workers are being paid on time.