New York University’s Middle Eastern branch campus was built by 10,000 workers laboring in subpar or even slave-like conditions, according to a new report.
About 30,000 people worked to construct NYU’s posh campus in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, which was completed last year. These workers were supposed to be protected by labor guidelines governing their pay, hours and working conditions, but according to the report by the investigative firm Nardello and Company, about one-third of workers were excluded from these guidelines through the exploitation of loopholes that allowed subcontracted workers to be exempted.
New York University is frequently ranked as one of the country’s most liberal, activist universities.
The report comes as an unwelcome surprise to NYU, which commissioned the investigation after allegations last year, including a major article in The New York Times which said workers building its campus were being mistreated. The allegations, substantially confirmed by Nardello, include companies confiscating workers’ passports, paying wages late or not at all, forcing workers into involuntary overtime, and cramming workers into substandard housing. The report is unclear about how much NYU knew about these abusive practices while they were happening.
The conditions endured by many Persian Gulf manual laborers, most of them imported from South Asia, have been likened to slavery by human rights organizations.
NYU released a statement apologizing and pledging to compensate any workers who were mistreated.
“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,” the school said. “We commit to ensuring that we will not allow such a compliance gap to occur in the future.”
However, the report notes that sometimes NYU’s promises have fallen through in the past. For example, many migrant workers pay recruitment fees of several thousand dollars to be transported from their home countries to the UAE to start jobs, and NYU promised to reimburse their workers for any such fees. However, while 25,000 workers or more may have qualified, the report said, less than two dozen were ever reimbursed, because NYU narrowed the definition of who qualified while also demanding proof workers had paid recruitment fees. Such proof is often impossible to obtain.
“It would be like getting a receipt from a loan shark,” Nardello CEO Daniel Nardello told The New York Times.
The mistreatment of UAE workers has caused friction with some NYU faculty members. Andrew Ross, a professor at NYU’s New York campus, was barred from entering the country earlier this year, and there is also evidence that the UAE government, or some other actor, has hired a private investigator to obtain information for a possible smear campaign against him. (RELATED: Why Are Critics Of NYU Being Secretly Investigated?)
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