March 21, 2012

Appendix: Related Correspondence

Letter from Human Rights Watch to Main Parties Involved in the Saadiyat Island Development Project – February 24, 2011

February 24, 2011

To: The Abu Dhabi Tourism and Development Investment Company (TDIC); the Abu Dhabi Executive Affairs Authority (EAA); New York University; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation; and Agence France Museums

Following up on our last meetings with several of you, we wish to inform you about our ongoing efforts to monitor the progress of labor rights protections for migrant workers employed on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi.

Recently, many of your institutions made public commitments to uphold a variety of workers’ rights protections, including provisions relating to payment of recruitment fees, workers’ freedom of movement, protections against forced labor, health and safety provisions, minimum standards of accommodation, electronic monitoring of wage payments, and the provision of adequate rest and leisure. We note, however, that Agence France Museums/the Louvre has failed to publicly announce commitments on workers’ rights to date.

In October and November 2010 and again in January 2011, Human Rights Watch visited Saadiyat Island and interviewed, in individual and group settings, migrant workers engaged in construction projects on the island. We met interviewees on worksites that included the Saadiyat Island Cultural District and the NYU and Guggenheim construction sites, which were clearly signposted with their respective names. Interviews took place at work sites and at off-site labor camps. Workers provided the names of their employers, which we saw printed on many workers’ uniforms and pay slips, as well as posted at work sites. Employers included Leighton al-Habtoor, al-Jaber, Saif bin Darwish, al-Nabouda, al-Hilal, al-Futaim Carillion, Dulsco, and al-Ryum Companies.[41]

We conducted this research to update the findings of our 2009 report, The Island of Happiness: Exploitation of Migrant Workers on Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, particularly with the knowledge that there remained lack of clarity regarding your commitment to provide independent, third-party monitoring of labor conditions for workers on your projects. We plan to issue a new report based upon our findings. In this letter, we share with you these findings prior to publication, in order to give you an opportunity to respond. We will incorporate responses received within one month from the date of this letter’s issuance into our public reporting. Some of you have already responded through private conversations, and while we have not reflected those updates in this private correspondence, we will follow up with you to ensure that your responses appear in our published material.

While our research indicates that there have been some improvements in problems we have previously documented, particularly in the regular payment of wages into personal bank accounts, it appears that employment practices still fail to conform to the various commitments made by your institutions, such as TDIC’s Employment Practices Policy (“TDIC EPP”), dated June 2010, the TDIC/Guggenheim Statement of Shared Values (“Guggenheim Statement”), published September 22, 2010, the SA8000 standard, adopted by Agence France Museums and TDIC for their Louvre Abu Dhabi project, though not publicly announced, on March 6, 2007 (“Louvre Standards”), and NYU/EAA’s Statement of Labor Values, as well as the Additional Information on the Construction and Operation of NYU Abu Dhabi(together, the “NYU/EAA Statement”) dated February 3, 2010. In some of the cases we researched, it additionally appears that ongoing practices on the island violate UAE law as well as international standards for labor rights and migrant workers’ rights.

In summary, workers nearly universally reported that they had paid high recruitment fees to obtain their jobs in the UAE. In some cases, workers said they had paid these fees over three years ago, while in other cases, they had paid fees just a few months before arriving in Abu Dhabi, to obtain their most recent employment contract. Some workers said that they had not signed an employment contract before leaving their home country, while others reported that, in cases where they had signed a contract in their home country, employers required them to sign new contracts with different terms upon arrival in the UAE. Some workers reported that the nature of their employment was substantially different from what agents had promised in their home country.

In a positive development, almost all workers interviewed said that they received timely electronic payments for both their regular wages and overtime pay into personal bank accounts. Most workers said they received regular rest breaks and days off and reported that employers observed summertime restrictions on afternoon work. However, it appears that contractors are not uniformly applying these improvements.

Some workers complained that employers deducted significant portions (up to 25 percent) of their monthly wage as a “food allowance.” Many of the workers interviewed said that they did not live in the TDIC Workers’ Village, and some cited problems with their accommodations. All but one of the workers interviewed held employer-paid health insurance, and all said they had received safety clothing and training, though some felt their training had not been adequate and felt ill-equipped for their jobs. Finally, of all the workers interviewed, only one had possession of his passport.

1. Recruitment Fees

As long documented by Human Rights Watch, one of the leading factors in worker exploitation and abuse in the UAE is their indebtedness for exorbitant recruitment fees, which effectively traps workers in unsatisfactory employment. It appears that workers on Saadiyat Island continue to pay these fees, without remedy by your institutions, despite promises to address this problem.

Under UAE labor law, the employer must pay all recruitment fees associated with hiring migrant labor.[42] Your institutions have addressed this issue in your public commitments to protect workers’ rights on Saadiyat Island, but thus far not with the specificity needed to avoid the payment of such fees by workers. The TDIC EPP prohibits contractors from working with agents that charge workers such fees and further stipulates that contractors remain solely liable for all costs and fees associated with workers’ employment on Saadiyat Island.[43] However, the TDIC EPP includes no mechanism to reimburse workers found to have paid such illegal fees. The Guggenheim Statement stresses its commitment to preventing employees involved in constructing its Abu Dhabi site from paying these fees, stating “ No one involved in the construction of TDIC’s projects shall utilise the service of any agent or agency charging an employee any recruitment fee.”[44] But it too includes no mechanism for enforcement of this provision or reimbursement for workers found to have paid such fees. The Louvre Standards do not address recruitment fees specifically, but prohibits forced labor using international legal standards, including ILO conventions on forced labor.[45] ILO research on forced labor has found recruitment fees to be one of the main factors contributing to situations of forced labor and debt bondage.[46]

The NYU/EAA Statement, the most robust of these commitments, includes the provision that “ Employers will fully cover or reimburse employees for fees associated with the recruitment process, including those relating to visas, medical examinations and the use of recruitment agencies, without deductions being imposed on their remuneration.”[47]

Despite your institutional commitments to date, almost all of the workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported paying between US$900 and $3,000 to agents in their home countries when seeking employment in the UAE, including some who had arrived recently to work specifically on TDIC projects on Saadiyat Island. They said they continued to take loans at high interest rates, mortgage family property, and to exhaust hard-won savings to raise the funds to pay recruitment fees, for the promise of better employment in the UAE. Ali R., a worker from Bangladesh who worked for Leighton al-Habtoor, told Human Rights Watch that he had paid 190,000 Bangladeshi taka (US$2,668) to a recruitment agent in his country seven months earlier.[48] Jamshid S., an al-Jaber construction company employee from Punjab, India, said that he had paid 45,000 Indian rupees (US$990) in recruitment fees eight months earlier.

Human Rights Watch notes that nearly all of the workers on the NYU construction site, employed by al-Futaim Carillion, whom we interviewed reported that they had not paid recruitment fees to obtain their most recent employment contract; instead, the majority of these workers had paid fees over five years before, they said. However, one al-Futaim Carillion worker at the NYU site said that he had arrived just over a year ago and had paid for his plane ticket. Another on the site said that he had arrived 28 months before, and paid 175,000 Bangladeshi taka (US$2458) in recruitment fees.

In contrast, the prevalence of recently paid recruitment fees by workers employed on other work sites, including throughout the Cultural District, indicates that TDIC and the Guggenheim have failed to give meaning to assurances that only employers will pay recruitment fees. The only meaningful remedy to this practice will be a policy of interviewing each worker currently employed on a project and asking whether he has paid any recruitment fees, visa fees, or travel costs to any labor supply agency and reimbursing them for any such fees or costs. Furthermore, TDIC, the Guggenheim, and NYU/EAA should implement their promise to insist that contractors stop working with agents that have charged workers such fees, and report these agents to the relevant embassies or consulates. Agence France Museums (AFM)/the Louvre should immediately commit to ensuring that contractors involved in the Louvre Abu Dhabi project pay workers’ recruitment fees, and to penalizing contractors who worked with agents that charged workers fees.

On the subject of recruitment fees, Human Rights Watch respectfully requests replies to the following questions:

  • What steps has your institution taken to monitor whether workers employed on your projects have paid recruitment fees to obtain employment?
  • Have you asked each contractor to attest that it has paid all of the recruitment fees for each of its employees, and that it has ascertained that none of its employees have otherwise paid fees?
  • How many contractors or agents have been reported to your institution as violating the terms of your labor values policy?
  • What measures has your institution taken or recommended to penalize violating contractors?
  • How many recruitment agents have been reported to UAE authorities for violating UAE laws and charging workers on your project(s) recruitment fees? Have you identified any recruitment companies ineligible to provide workers for your projects?

2. Contract Substitution and Human Trafficking

As previously documented by Human Rights Watch, “contract substitution,” and other practices involving the promise of jobs and wages in the home country markedly superior to a worker’s actual assignment once in the UAE, have been a widespread problem for migrant workers. Our research indicates that these practices continue to be a problem despite your public institutional commitments to ensure that the terms workers are promised in their home country are the terms they actually get once in the UAE.

TDIC’s EPP states that “New employee’s [sic] shall receive, in their own language, and acknowledge receipt of official confirmation of his terms of employment, including but not limited to all wage information before leaving his country of origin, or where the Employee is already in the UAE, before the Employee is assigned to the Site.”[49] The Guggenheim Statement reiterates these commitments.[50] However, the NYU/EAA Statement remains silent on contracting requirements, and the Louvre Standards also fail to contemplate this aspect of migrant labor contracting.

Many of the workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch in November 2010 said that their wages on Saadiyat Island were less than the amount they had been promised in their home countries. In some cases, they said that they had to work different jobs than what they had contracted for with recruitment agents in their home countries. However their lack of access to their passports, recruitment debts, and the urgent need to send income home to their families, combined with workers’ inability to change jobs, left them trapped in whatever employment conditions they found upon their arrival in the UAE.

Some workers reported that agents in their home countries had required them to sign blank pieces of paper before departure. Others said they had signed one contract in their home country, in their native language, and another upon arrival, in Arabic or English (languages that many of them did not read). In cases where agents in workers’ home countries provided employment contracts in their native languages, these contracts did not match the conditions workers later found on Saadiyat Island, they said.

For contracts signed in the UAE by workers on TDIC projects, the majority said they received no detailed explanation from a company representative about the terms of the contracts. Instead they did a “quick sign.” They described this process as being summoned to sign their contracts in a large group, one by one, and given no time to read its contents, even if they were able to do so in the language provided. “We didn’t understand what we signed,” said one worker employed by al-Ryum Company. Jamshid S., an Indian worker employed by al-Jaber, said, “I signed a contract [in Punjab,] in Hindi. It said that I would make 720 dirhams (US$196), plus food and accommodation.”[51] However, on Saadiyat, he only makes 520 dirhams (US$142) in basic salary per month, he told Human Rights Watch. Nureddin A., a Pakistani worker on the Guggenheim site, said, “at home, my agent said I would make 700 dirhams (US$191) in basic salary… [but] I earn 525 dirhams (US$143) basic salary.”[52]

In Pakistan, Nureddin added, his agent told him he would work in a processing plant packaging bottled water. “I worked as a driver in Pakistan,” he said. “I have no experience building.”[53]

Gautam K. and Venkat C., two workers from Andhra Pradesh in India who work with Nureddin on construction of the Guggenheim, also said that recruitment agents defrauded them regarding the type of employment they would have.[54] “The agent told me ‘you will work in the airport, you will get 1,200 dirhams (US$327) as basic salary,” Gautam said. “[But when] I came to Abu Dhabi three years ago, my basic salary was 575 dirhams (US$157). Now it’s 650 (US$177). I would not have come if I had known [the truth about this job].”[55]

TDIC, the Guggenheim, and NYU/EAA, must fulfill public promises by requiring contractors to identify and cease working with any labor supply agencies in labor-sending countries or the UAE that engage in deception regarding contracts, while AFM/the Louvre should match promises made by other institutions to date. Identification must include affirmative investigation conducted by interviewing workers as to the nature of contracts they signed in their home countries, and workers who were deceived must be allowed to obtain the terms promised them, change employers in the UAE, or return home at their employer’s expense, if they wish to do so. TDIC and EAA must penalize and terminate relationships with any contractors that mislead workers regarding conditions of employment upon arrival in the UAE.

  • What steps has your institution taken to ensure that workers will receive employment contracts in their home countries that comply with contractor requirements made by each of your institutions, and that these contracts will match their employment conditions in the UAE? Have your institutions interviewed each worker prior to his employment to ascertain what terms he was promised in his home country?
  • What penalties have you enforced, or do you plan to enforce, in cases where workers have been deceived as to the nature or terms of their employment?

3. Passport Confiscation and Freedom of Movement

Confiscating employees’ passports, a near universal practice in the UAE, violates the rights of workers to freedom of movement under international law, as well as Emirati judicial rulings. Nevertheless it remains a pervasive problem on Saadiyat Island.

TDIC,[56] the Guggenheim,[57] and NYU/EAA[58] have promised publicly that contractors and employers involved in their Saadiyat Island projects will not confiscate employee passports, and that employees shall retain possession of their own passports and other identity documents. AFM/the Louvre has also committed to protect against forced labor, and the Louvre Standards stipulate that contractors “shall not engage in or support the use of forced or compulsory labour as defined in ILO Convention 29, nor shall personnel be required to pay ‘deposits’ or lodge identification papers with the company upon commencing employment.”[59]

However, all but one of the workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that their companies had taken possession of their passports, although it appears that some employers now are undertaking to return these passports, or to obtain explicit employee permission to hold them for safekeeping. Employees of al-Jaber Co. told Human Rights Watch that their company was slowly returning workers’ passports to their possession. Though only one al-Jaber employee had his passport in his possession, the workers told Human Rights Watch that they understood their employer was returning passports according to their worker ID numbers, and that all passports would be returned eventually.

Workers employed by al-Futaim Carrillion Co., one of the contractors constructing NYU’s campus, told Human Rights Watch that while their employer held their passport, they received a receipt stating they could collect their passports at any time. Human Rights Watch saw one of the release papers issued by al-Futaim Carillion, which states that the signatory understands that he has a choice to retain his passport or turn it over to his employer for safekeeping. It provides that he may request it at any time and that the passport will be returned within 24 hours, excluding weekends and holidays. It further states that return cannot be guaranteed within this period, but that expedited return can be attempted in emergency circumstances.

However, workers constructing NYU’s campus interviewed by Human Rights Watch did not understand that they had an option to keep their passports at all times, nor did they know of a secure place to keep passports or other personal belongings as an alternative. While the workers’ accommodations had personal lock boxes for each worker, the company had not provided locks despite requests to camp managers over a two-month period, workers said.

In order to give meaning to the promise that workers shall keep their own passports and identity documents, each of your institutions should require your contractors to ensure that workers have locked storage boxes in a safe location where they can store their passports and other valuables if they wish to do so, and monitor whether workers do in fact have a safe location in which they can store their passports and other identity documents. If significant numbers of workers request to store documents outside of their accommodation, an independent third-party depository should be arranged.

Workers’ freedom of movement also remains compromised in some cases by the limited availability of transport from their labor camps. Some of these camps lack basic amenities such as banking and postal centers and markets. NYU/EAA workers living on Yas Island complained that transport was only provided a few times a day on Fridays, their day off, and that if they missed that transport there was no other way for them to leave the camp site. Workers we met at the Guggenheim site, and others in the Cultural District, said they lived in the Musaffa and al-Mashreq (also known as China camp) camps, which we found had more private transport options. Where workers live in isolated accommodations far from commercial centers, your institutions should ensure that they have access to transport throughout their day off at regularly scheduled intervals so that they can access banking and other commercial facilities without undue hardship. Section 6 further details our findings relating to worker accommodations.

  • What steps has your institution taken to ensure that all workers are allowed to keep their passports?
  • What steps have you taken to provide workers with a safe location in which to store their passports and other personal identity documents should they wish to do so?
  • What steps have you taken to provide transport to and from work camps on workers’ days off?

4. Ability to Freely Terminate Employment

In our 2009 report, we described how workers’ inability to quit jobs and seek other employment left them dependent upon employers, even in situations where employers did not pay their wages or otherwise violated their rights. Both international and UAE law prohibit forced labor, and all of the four institutional commitments referenced in this letter reiterate this prohibition. However, UAE law requires employers to report workers who leave jobs without consent and take other employment as “absconding.” If caught, workers registered as “absconding” must be deported, and face a ban on returning to work in the UAE.

Workers interviewed on Saadiyat Island continued to report that they could not obtain their employer’s consent to quit jobs. “I have told [my employers] that I want to go back, but they don’t listen to anyone,” said Premchand R., an Indian worker employed by al-Hilal, during an interview in October 2010.[60] Abdul S., a worker from Bangladesh employed by al-Ryum, told Human Rights Watch: “Now I want to return home because of an emergency. My parents are sick; my wife is also there and needs me to come home, but they [my employers] are not letting me go.”[61] Because Abdul S. said his employer held his passport, and because UAE law requires the employer to stamp a worker’s employment visa before he can leave the country, he could not simply quit and return to his family.

  • What steps has your institution taken, if any, to ensure that workers can freely terminate employment?

5. Wage Deductions for Food

Wage deductions for food are prohibited under the TDIC EPP, the Guggenheim Statement, and the NYU/EAA Statement. The Louvre Standards also prohibit wage deductions except in limited circumstances, and require remuneration to comply with all applicable local laws.[62] TDIC’s Employment Practices Policy, Section 21.5, states that no deductions from workers’ wages shall be made with respect to food, health and safety, and accommodation, while the NYU/EAA Statement specifies that “As a floor, workers providing services to NYU Abu Dhabi will be paid wages and benefits which comply with all applicable U.A.E. laws and regulations and which provide for their essential needs and living standards.”

Workers employed by Al-Futaim Carillion Company, one of the companies constructing the NYU Saadiyat campus, told Human Rights Watch that in addition to their basic salary of 800 dirhams (US$218) monthly (for laborers) or 1,200 dirhams (US$327)(for masons and carpenters), their employer fully paid for their food, housing, and medical expenses.

However, several workers on TDIC projects told Human Rights Watch that employers paid a monthly food allowance as part of their regular wages and in some cases expected them to purchase and cook their own food, but that they could deduct their monthly food allowance at any time as a punitive measure—in violation of TDIC promises on wage deductions. TDIC-employed workers, including workers from the Guggenheim museum site, said that their employers had made such punitive deductions during the past year.[63]

Workers employed by al-Nabouda Company, adjacent to the Louvre site in the Saadiyat Cultural District, told Human Rights Watch that they received monthly wages of 580 dirhams (US$158), paid to their bank accounts. However, they said that their employer required them to pay 150 dirhams (US$41), or more than a week’s wages, from their salaries each month for food. “If we don’t pay for food, they won’t give us a card. We have to show that card at the canteen,” one worker explained.[64] Nureddin A. from Pakistan, who worked at the Guggenheim construction site, said, “My company pays a food allowance of 125 dirhams (US$34). But we need a minimum of 200 dirham (US$54) for simple food. Because of inflation, even 300 (US$82) might not be enough for good food. We just eat dal and vegetables. We cannot eat meat, [except for] two or three times a month.”[65] Nureddin said that his company, Dulsco, had deducted one month’s food allowance from his salary a few months before, as a penalty for missing one day’s work.

  • What policy does your institution have to provide workers with adequate food?
  • What inquiries have you made about employers’ mechanisms for providing workers with food? Do contractors at your worksite provide a food allowance in addition to workers’ basic wages, or do they subtract this from workers’ wages? Have you interviewed any workers yourself regarding their food situation?
  • What steps have you taken to guard against illegal wage deductions?
  • What punitive measures have you taken in cases of illegal wage deductions?

6. Accommodation

Each of your institutions, with the exception of Agence France Museums /the Louvre , has made public promises to uphold minimum standards in the accommodation of workers involved in your Saadiyat Island projects. The Guggenheim Statement of September 22, 2010, specifies “all contractors working on the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Museum site are obligated to accommodate their employees at the Saadiyat Island Construction Village, designed and built by TDIC to model international standards.”[66] The TDIC EPP states that all contractors “shall be obliged to utilise the Village provided for all Employees, excluding Temporary Employees,” and that “any exception has to be reviewed and approved in advance.”[67] The Louvre Standards require contractors to “ensure that any dormitory facilities provided for personnel are clean, safe, and meet the basic needs of the personnel.”[68] Meanwhile, the NYU/EAA Statement remains silent on worker housing standards.

Human Rights Watch has not been granted permission to visit the TDIC Workers’ Village located on Saadiyat Island. In our interviews, workers housed at the facility consistently reported that it was clean, well-maintained, and provided superior meals and amenities. Human Rights Watch has noted TDIC’s progress in surpassing required standards for worker housing at the Workers’ Village, and continues to commend this improvement. However, we note that many of the workers we interviewed during our November visit, including workers employed on the NYU and Guggenheim sites and interviewed throughout the Cultural District, do not live in the Workers’ Village. Instead, they live at workers’ camps in the Musaffa Industrial Area of Abu Dhabi, in the al-Raha area near Saadiyat Island, in camps on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, or on Yas Island. A January 21, 2010 letter from TDIC to Human Rights Watch states that “5,000 workers live in the TDIC Workers’ Village.”[69] “Once complete, the camp will house more than 40,000 workers.”[70]

Human Rights Watch visited the Industrial City of Abu Dhabi (ICAD), a large labor camp exclusive to male workers located in the Musaffa Industrial Area, as well as al-Dar camp on Yas Island, the Saif bin Darwish camp in the Baniyas area of Abu Dhabi, and the al-Mashreq camp (also called China camp). Workers reported varying levels of cleanliness at these facilities. Workers living in ICAD, including workers employed on the Guggenheim Museum construction site, are not allowed visitors, according to a list of rules posted at the entrance of residence buildings. Notices indicated regular water shortages. Workers who lived in the ICAD labor camp told Human Rights Watch that their accommodations were crowded beyond their intended capacity. “Our accommodation looks good, but we are living [with] between 14 and 16 people per room,” said Nureddin A., a worker from the Guggenheim construction site.[71]

Some NYU/EAA workers living on Yas Island reported that the bathrooms in their camp were cleaned only once or twice a week, leaving them to use dirty facilities. Human Rights Watch visited a worker bathroom and found it in extremely unsanitary condition and covered in excrement. “In [our previous] camp [in Dubai], it was clean; there was no problem with the bathroom,” said Muhsin R., a worker from Bangladesh. “Here the room is ok, quiet, but the bathroom is not clean.” NYU/EAA workers housed on Yas Island reported that their rooms held four inhabitants each. The workers said that it was difficult for them to reach markets or commercial centers where they could do errands, and that they disliked the isolated location of their camp.

  • What steps have you taken to ensure that workers employed in the construction of your institution’s Saadiyat site have adequate housing that meets the standards set in your public commitments?
  • How do you ensure that only the intended number of workers live in the accommodation provided, and guard against overcrowding?
  • What type of inspection, if any, has your institution secured for workers’ accommodations?
  • What remedial measures will you take, if any, upon discovering that workers have been provided sub-par accommodations?

7. Medical Care and Workplace Injury Compensation

Human Rights Watch has recommended that employers provide adequate healthcare to all workers as required by law, including opportunities to seek medical advice and treatment from medical staff not employed by these companies, and that employers inform workers of their rights. Each of your institutions, with the exception of AFM/the Louvre, has publicly promised to protect workers’ right to health care, including by protecting workers’ access to health care and by providing workplace injury compensation. The TDIC EPP states that employers are liable only for the payment of employees’ health insurance, a standard reiterated in the Guggenheim Statement and the NYU/EAA Statement. The Louvre Standards do not specifically address health insurance.

The TDIC EPP states, “The Contractor shall be liable for the payment of the Employees’ Health Insurance.” It further provides for workplace injury compensation, but does not mention ordinary health care costs not covered by insurance, which often prove burdensome for workers making between 500-800 dirhams (US$136-218) in basic monthly salary.[72]

In a notable improvement since our 2008 report, all but one of the workers we interviewed on Saadiyat Island had health insurance, as required by UAE law.[73] Most workers interviewed said that their health insurance plans covered 70 percent of their medical costs. However, many reported that they had to pay the remaining 30 percent.[74] Workers reported paying between 20 and 30 dirhams (US$5-8) to visit a medical facility – an amount equal or greater to one day’s wages for many. “It costs us 30 dirhams (US$8) to visit the doctor,” said one worker employed by al-Ryum Company. “A blood test, an x-ray – all tests cost 10 dirhams (US$3).” With a doctor’s visit costing more than a day’s salary for laborers and other construction workers, these workers are discouraged from seeking health care except when absolutely necessary. Provisions guaranteeing affordable and accessible health care to workers on the island are particularly important in physically demanding employment where employees may be exposed to construction hazards.

Jamshid S., an Indian worker employed by al-Jaber, told Human Rights Watch that his company did not provide adequate medical care. “For medical, they provide only first aid, Panadol,” he said. “Anything else, we pay on our own expenses.” Mohammad K., a Bangladeshi worker employed by al-Nabouda, said that he had visited a medical clinic after feeling pain in his shoulder. “I had to pay for the medicine,” he said. “It cost 75 dirhams (US$20).”

Al-Hilal workers told Human Rights Watch that their company reimbursed medical expenses not covered by health insurance. “We give the bill to the company; after one month the company pays that [remaining] 30 percent. If we bring the medical bill, we get paid for eight hours [for the day we missed],” said a mason from Rajasthan, India.

The NYU/EAA Statement also stipulates only that “employees will receive employer-provided medical insurance,” saying nothing about additional costs imposed that may either be beyond a worker’s means or discourage them from seeking preventative care or early treatment for medical conditions.[75] However, NYU/EAA workers employed by Al-Futaim Carillion also said that their employer fully reimbursed their medical expenses up to a fixed maximum.[76]

Workers also reported that their employers did not provide workplace injury compensation. “If someone gets hurt at work, the company cancels their visa and sends them home. There is no compensation,” said Mahmud K., a Bangladeshi worker for al-Ryum. “We sign a paper saying that if any accident happens, the company is not responsible. It is written only in English.” Mahmud added that a coworker who read some English had explained the release form to him.

“If somebody gets hurt … they keep them one month. If they can work, they stay. If not, they don’t get compensation, they just send them home,” said Premchand R., an Indian worker employed by al-Hilal. “[The company] pay[s] for that one month,” he said.

  • What is your institution’s position on ensuring that workers have access to affordable and accessible health care, including preventative care? Has your institution considered providing financial support to workers to assist them in covering co-pays and other costs not covered by insurance?
  • What steps have you taken to instruct supervisors and contractors to protect workers’ right to seek medical care?

8. Health and Safety Issues

The NYU/EAA Statement, the Guggenheim Statement, the Louvre Standards, and the TDIC EPP have all promised to provide a safe and healthy workplace by requiring contractors involved in the Saadiyat Island project to take measures to protect workers’ health and safety. NYU/EAA’s Statement stipulates that, “As required by U.A.E. law, a safe and healthy working environment shall be provided to workers providing services to NYU Abu Dhabi to prevent accidents and injuries to health arising out of, linked with, or occurring in the course of work.” [77] TDIC’s EPP has nearly a full page devoted to health and safety issues in its policy, and broadly states, “The Contractor shall at all time provide its Employees with safe working conditions.”[78] Both the TDIC EPP and NYU/EAA Statement require on-site inspections and safety audits. NYU/EAA, TDIC, and the Louvre Standards all additionally require that contractors provide workers with on-site access to drinking water.[79]

Human Rights Watch noted a serious effort to observe select minimum safety standards on Saadiyat Island. Construction firms required all workers that we interviewed to wear safety shoes, vests, and helmets while on construction sites. Safety signage had been placed at construction sites with instruction in multiple languages and pictorial representation of safety rules. Workers employed on multiple sites reported observing TDIC inspectors.

However, workers reported receiving minimal training for construction jobs. Nureddin A. told Human Rights Watch that his job is to help with the pilings for the Guggenheim’s foundation. “It’s very difficult; I don’t have any idea about this job,” he said. “It’s a long duty [time], hard work.”

“We had a safety briefing; it was a one-hour meeting,” Nureddin reported. “During the safety training, they said to wear a helmet, have safety shoes, don’t throw trash everywhere [around the site.]’ After that, they said, ‘you have to do this work starting tomorrow.’”

Nureddin also told Human Rights Watch that he and his coworkers did not have adequate provisions for drinking water. “We have to come to the central area,” he said, indicating that water was only provided in one area of the vast work site. “The boss will ask us ‘why are you going to the water so many times,’ so we can’t go too often. Sometimes I have a headache, fever. It’s not that serious – I think I was sick because of tiredness and the heat.”

“This job is more difficult than others,” said Venkat R., another Guggenheim site worker. “I haven’t done this before. [Before this job] sometimes I worked in a workshop, sometimes I did cleaning [in the UAE]. [But] it’s too difficult here. We didn’t get [much] training.”

Given that workers report difficulty accessing drinking water, heat-related illness, and inadequate training for technical jobs, Human Rights Watch continues to recommend that all TDIC and EAA-employed contractors publicly report work site injuries and deaths, and make the results of regular safety inspections and audits publicly available.

  • How has your institution monitored health and safety compliance on your worksite thus far?
  • What penalties have been imposed in cases of health and safety violations?
  • How many injuries and deaths have been reported on your worksite since commencement of construction (including preparatory work)? How many on Saadiyaat Island in total?
  • What steps has your institution taken thus far to ensure adequate workplace injury compensation, in keeping with institutional policy?
  • How do you ensure that workers remain fully informed of their rights regarding workplace injury compensation?

9. Timely Payment

UAE labor law now requires on-time electronic payment of workers’ wages. Both the TDIC EPP and NYU/EAA Statement specify that employers must pay workers on-time electronic payments in compliance with the UAE-mandated electronic Wage Protection System. Both policies require payment on-time and without delay, though they fail to specify the required schedule, while the Guggenheim Statement also states that “the contractor shall pay electronically each employee’s wages, benefits and dues at least once per month.” The Louvre Standards include similar protections, and add that “the company shall ensure that deductions from wages are not made for disciplinary purposes.”[80]

Human Rights Watch found significant improvement in employers’ adherence to UAE requirements that workers receive itemized monthly wage payments through bank accounts. Most of the workers interviewed said that they had ATM cards at local or international banks. Workers employed by al-Ryum Company said that they received payment through UAEXchange, a private commercial exchange and money transfer company. These workers did not have ATM cards or electronic pay stubs.

NYU/EAA workers reported that their company, al-Futaim Carillion, had a practice of withholding a portion of workers’ wages for the first two months of employment. Before beginning work at the NYU site, they said, they were promised that their wages would increase from 572 dirhams (US$156) to 1,200 dirhams (US$327) for work as a carpenter or mason. Although workers signed a new contract for the increased amount of wages before starting at the NYU site, their employer had withheld the salary increase, they said, and continued to pay them 572 dirhams (US$156) during the first two months of employment.

Human Rights Watch reviewed pay slips from workers employed by multiple companies. All electronic pay slips viewed showed itemized payments for a worker’s basic salary, food allowance (where applicable), overtime at 1.25 times the basic rate, and overtime at 1.5 times the basic rate (applicable between 9 pm and 4 am, and on weekends).

The widespread nature of electronic payment and provision of itemized pay slips demonstrates general adherence to the UAE legal requirement that workers receive electronic payment. However, NYU/EAA workers’ experience demonstrates that Saadiyat Island contractors still engage in the practice of withholding workers’ contractually agreed-upon wages during the first two months of their contract. Meanwhile, our interviews with other Saadiyat Island workers show that some workers receive cash payments through a commercial institution, and do not appear to have bank accounts.

  • How has your institution been monitoring payment of worker wages thus far?
  • What have been the results of your inspections, if any?
  • What penalties have you or your partner institution assessed in cases of violations related to wage payment?

10. Independent Third-Party Monitoring and Enforcement

Human Rights Watch’s most recent findings drive home the necessity of independent monitoring and reporting to ensure that workers receive, in practice, and not just on paper, the benefit of the labor protections you have promised them. To that end, can you please inform us:

  • Which contractors currently provide manpower services to your worksite?
  • Have representatives from your institution met with said contractor(s) and discussed employment policy and workers’ rights with them?
  • Can you provide information on interviews and inspections conducted with workers on your construction site?
  • How many contractors associated with your project have you penalized thus far due to policy violations? How many have been terminated? What other penalties, if any, have been assessed?
  • Has your institution obtained agreement with your partner to engage independent third-party monitors? If yes, have you identified such a monitor and when is this monitor to begin?

As in prior communications, we urge you to make a public commitment to independent third-party monitoring of workers’ rights on Saadiyat Island as soon as possible, and to make publicly available any information on monitoring and enforcement to date.


In conclusion, the range of improvements and shortfalls recorded by Human Rights Watch during our latest research on Saadiyat Island shows a failure by TDIC and the EAA to fully comply with public promises that they and their international partners have made to protect workers’ rights. To date, Agence France Museums/the Louvre has failed to announce publicly Saadiyat Island-specific commitments to protecting workers’ rights, as Human Rights Watch called upon all institutions to do in our 2009 report. The Guggenheim has announced, in conjunction with TDIC, public commitments to protect workers’ rights, but interviews with workers from the site show that these commitments have yet to be implemented. And while NYU and the EAA have made progress on their commitments, they also have failed to fully meet their published promises. We hope that the above information will prove useful to you in your ongoing engagement with development on Saadiyat Island; we have provided it to you privately, in hopes that we will have an opportunity to meet and to discuss our findings, and to obtain written replies to our questions, in advance of the publication of our findings.

We will be available to meet in New York, Paris, or Abu Dhabi, and would welcome the opportunity to continue our dialogue on these important issues.


Sarah Leah Whitson

Executive Director

Middle East and North Africa Division

CC: President of the Republic, France

Ministry of Culture, France

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, France

CC:        Ateliers Jean Nouvel

                Foster and Partners

                Gehry Partners LLP

                Rafael Vinoly Architects PC

                Tadao Ando Architects and Associates

                ZahaHadid Architects

TDIC Response to February 24 Human Rights Watch Letter – March 17, 2011

[41] The major manpower supply companies mentioned in our 2009 report continue to supply labor for Saadiyat Island construction, including Leighton al-Habtoor, al-Jaber, Saif bin Darwish, al-Nabouda, al-Hilal, al-Futaim Carillion, Dulsco, and al-Ryum Companies. Many of these companies maintain corporate websites claiming to provide employee benefits that we found have not been upheld in practice.

[42]According to UAE law, “no licensed employment agent or labour supplier shall demand or accept from any worker, whether before or after the latter’s admission to employment, any commission or material reward in return for employment, or charge him for any expenses thereby incurred, except as may be prescribed or approved by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.” Article 3, Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, Ministerial Resolution No. 233 (1998), On Rules of Licensing Employment and Expatriate Manpower Supply Agencies, May 2, 1998. See also Article 18, Federal Law No. 8 (1980) on Regulation of Labor Relations.

[43] The TDIC EPP, Section 16, states: “The Contractor shall include the prohibition of payment of Recruitment Fees by Employees in its contract with any Agent and on request, furnish the ERM with a copy of such contract.

·          16.1.3 The Contractor shall not utilize the service of any Agent charging an Employee any Recruitment Fee or condone the payment of such fee by any Employee or Agent

·          16.2 Recruitment Fee

o    16.2.1 The Contractor shall be solely liable for the payment of all Recruitment Fees.

·          16.3 Relocation Costs

o    The Contractor shall be liable to pay all monies in respect of the Employees’ relocation to the UAE, including visa fees, travel/ticket and in general all monies that was necessary to assign the Employees to the Site.” Available at: (accessed November 29, 2010).

[44]The Guggenheim Statement continues: “If a contractor or TDIC becomes aware of any agent or agency who has charged an employee a recruitment fee, it shall report such agent or agency to the authorities and may not utilize the service of the agent or agency thereafter.” Guggenheim Statement, September 22, 2010, available at: (accessed January 12, 2011).

[45]It is important to note that SA8000 (referred to throughout as the Louvre Standards) was not written specifically to address the protection needs of migrant workers. Thus, the Standards fail to specifically address and prohibit some of the common practices that lead to violations of migrant workers rights in the UAE. SA 8000 Section 2 states that:  “Neither the company nor any entity supplying labour to the company shall withhold any part of any personnel’s salary, benefits, property, or documents in order to force such personnel to continue working for the company.” Available at: 2008StdEnglishFinal.pdf (accessed January 13, 2011).

[46]See the ILO 2009 Global Report on Forced Labor, The Cost of Coercion, p. 4. available at: February 4, 2011).

[47]NYU/EAA Statement, February 3, 2010, available at: (accessed January 12, 2011),

[48]Human Rights Watch interview with Ali R., Saadiyat Island Cultural District, October 30, 2010.

[49]TDIC EPP, Section 16.7, July 29, 2010, available at: (accessed November 29, 2010).

[50]“Employees shall receive official confirmation of the terms of their employment, including all wage information, before leaving their country of origin or, if the employee is already in the UAE, before they are assigned to the site. Contracts of employment shall comply with the law and shall be translated and explained to the employee in his native language before signature. Contracts of employment shall be approved and registered with the Ministry of Labour. An employee shall be given a copy of his contract of employment for his records.” Guggenheim Statement, p.2, available at: (accessed January 12, 2011).

[51]Human Rights Watch interview with Jamshid S., Saadiyat Island, October 30, 2010.

[52]Human Rights Watch interview with Nureddin A., ICAD labor camp, Musaffa Industria Area, Abu Dhabi, November 2, 2010.

[53]The UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum…forced labor or services.”

[54]Human Rights Watch interview with Gautam K. and Venkat C., ICAD labor camp, Musaffa Industrial Area, Abu Dhabi, November 2, 2010.

[55]Human Rights Watch interview with Gautam K., ICAD labor camp, Musaffa Industrial Area, Abu Dhabi, November 2, 2010.

[56]T DIC EPP Section 17 states:

·          “17.2 All Employees shall remain responsible for the safe keeping of their personal documents, including passports, drivers licenses, labour cards and health insurance cards.

·          17.3 No Contractor shall keep or retain the passport of any Employee, other than for the purposes of obtaining or renewing of a Residency Visa or cancellation of the Residency Visa upon termination of employment.” Available at: (accessed January 12, 2011).

[57]The Guggenheim Statement that “No contractor shall keep or retain the passport or any other personal document of an employee other than in connection with obtaining, renewing or cancelling a residency visa. The contractor shall present to TDIC a monthly list of any passports in its possession stating the reason for their possession. Employees shall have the right to retain their personal documents, including passports, drivers’ licenses, labor cards, and health insurance cards.” Available at: (accessed January 12, 2011).

[58]The NYU/EAA Statement specifies that “employees will retain all of their own personal documents, including passports and drivers' licenses.” Available at: (accessed January 12, 2011).

[59]SA8000, 2008, Section 2.1. Available at: 2008StdEnglishFinal.pdf (accessed January 13, 2011).

[60]Human Rights Watch interview with Premchand R., Saadiyat Island, October 30, 2010.

[61]Human Rights Watch interview with Abdul S., Saadiyat Island, October 30, 2010.

[62] “The company shall ensure that personnel’s wages and benefits composition are detailed clearly and in writing for them for each pay period. The company shall also ensure that wages and benefits are rendered in full compliance with all applicable laws.” SA8000, Sections 8.2 and 8.3. Available at: (accessed January 13, 2011).

[63]Human Rights Watch group interview with workers for al-Jaber Construction Company, Saadiyat Island, October 30, 2010; interview with Nureddin A., ICAD labor camp, Musaffa Industrial Area, Abu Dhabi, November 2, 2010.

[64]Human Rights Watch group interview with workers for al-Nabouda company, Saadiyat Island Cultural District, Abu Dhabi, October 30, 2010.

[65]Human Rights Watch interview with Nureddin A., ICAD labor camp, Musaffa Industrial Area, Abu Dhabi, November 2, 2010.

[66]Guggenheim Statement, available at: (accessed January 12, 2011).

[67]TDIC EPP, Available at: (accessed January 12, 2011).

[68]SA8000, Section 3. Available at: Final.pdf (accessed January 13, 2011).

[69]On file with Human Rights Watch.

[70]Nicolai Ourroussoff, “Building Museums, and a Fresh Arab Identity,” the New York Times, November 26, 2010. Available at: (accessed January 12, 2011).

[71]Human Rights Watch interview with Nureddin A., ICAD labor camp, Musaffa Industrial Area, Abu Dhabi, November 2, 2010.

[72]“Where an Employee has sustained any work related injuries or occupational diseases, the Contractor shall pay for the cost of his treatment unless it is covered by Insurance.” Section 34.2., EPP.

[73]Law No. (23) of 2005 and the Executive Regulations Regarding the Health Insurance Scheme for the Emirate of Abu Dhabi (“Health Insurance Law” and “Health Insurance Regulations”), available at: (accessed January 18, 2010).

[74]Abu Dhabi’s Health Insurance Regulations set a minimum requirement that all licensed insurers must cover 70 percent of the cost of any medicine prescribed to the insured person. Ibid, p.38.

[75]NYU/EAA Statement, available at: (accessed February 8, 2011).

[76]Human Rights Watch group interview with six workers from the NYU site, YasIsland, Abu Dhabi, November 5, 2010.

[77]The remainder of the NYU/EAA Statement’s Health and Safety Policy is available at

[78]The full policy states:

·          “33.1 The Contractor shall at all time provide its Employees with safe working conditions, includingsafe equipment. The contractor will have a health and safety programme in place that meets therequirements of UAE Law and the EPP. TDIC requires that safety audits, risk assessments andon-site visits are regularly conducted and shall share with the Guggenheim the results of audits,assessments and visits with respect to the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Museum. TDIC also requiresthat all tools and machinery are in safe working condition and are certified by the relevant statutory bodies.

·          33.2 The Contractor shall dedicate a senior person from management to be accountable forall Health and Safety matters.

·          33.3 The Contractor shall provide Employees with personal protective clothing that will be compliantwith minimum acceptable standard as determined by the Client‘s Health and Safety Manager:

·          33.4 Protective clothing shall be issued to Employees free of charge by the Contractor.

·          33.5 Each Contractor will have their company name on each Employee’s overall and hard hat.

·          33.6 It will be compulsory for all Employees to wear their protective clothing.

·          33.7 The Contractor shall keep an occupational injuries’ register on Site, recording all occupationalinjuries, diseases or deaths on Site or in the Village.

·          33.8 The Contractor shall ensure that health and safety representatives are appointed, regularmeetings take place and that records are kept of such meetings.

·          33.9 The Contractor shall provide first aid boxes containing medicine as prescribed by Law.At least 1 (one) first aid box shall be provided for every 100 (one hundred) Employees.

·          33.10 The Contractor shall display on the notice board detailed instructions indicatingmeasures how to prevent fires and the protection of Employees in this regard.”

[79] SA 8000 states: “The company shall provide, for use by all personnel, access to clean toilet facilities,access to potable water, and, where applicable, sanitary facilities for food storage.”

[80] SA 8000 Section 8 states:

·          “8.2 The company shall ensure that deductions from wages are not made for disciplinary purposes. Exceptions to this rule apply only when both of the followingconditions exist:

o    Deductions from wages for disciplinary purposes are permitted by national law; and

o    b) A freely negotiated collective bargaining agreement is in force.

o    8.3 The company shall ensure that personnel’s wages and benefits composition are detailed clearly and regularly in writing for them for each pay period. The company shall also ensure that wages and benefits are rendered in full compliance with all applicable laws and that remuneration is rendered either in cash or check form, in a manner convenient to workers.”

Available at: (accessed January 13, 2011).