Abu Dhabi rejects new report on Saadiyat labour abuses

Human Rights Watch alleges some employers are withholding workers’ wages and are confiscating passports

PHOTO: The Louvre Abu Dhabi is one of several high-profile developments underway on Saadiyat Island. Credit: Shutterstock

Abu Dhabi authorities have rejected a report alleging ongoing labour-rights abuses on Saadiyat Island, the flagship development set to include branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Tuesday published a report pointing to “serious concerns” over workers’ rights on the island, which will also host a campus of New York University (NYU). The US-headquartered non-governmental organisation said the alleged abuses “concern a small percentage of the workers”.

The group called on international organisations linked to the island to demand “more serious enforcement of worker protections and the compensation of workers who suffered abuses, including those arbitrarily deported after they went on strike.”

The 82-page HRW report – its third detailing alleged migrant-worker abuses on Saadiyat – claimed that “some employers are withholding workers’ wages and benefits, failing to reimburse them for recruiting fees, confiscating workers’ passports, and housing them in substandard accommodations.”

“The progress in respecting workers’ rights on Saadiyat Island risks being tossed out the window if workers know they can’t protest when things go wrong, and are still getting stuck with recruitment fees and suffering other abuses,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director. “NYU, the Louvre, and the Guggenheim need to make clear that new laws and codes of conduct are only as good as their enforcement.”

The Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC), the master developer behind Saadiyat, rejected what it called the “unfounded conclusions” of the HRW report.

TDIC, part of the Abu Dhabi Government, said the HRW report is based on “outdated and … unknown methodologies”.

A statement on the state news agency WAM said: “In building such landmark projects, TDIC has endeavoured to ensure that working conditions and practices on Saadiyat meet international standards and comply with UAE labour law. The company has established a comprehensive Employment Practices Policy, EPP, outlining the standards required from the companies working on our projects, and laying out penalties for those found to be in breach of any aspect. It has also established the Saadiyat Accommodation Village, a housing facility in which all TDIC contractors and subcontractors must be housed.

“Many groups, including British Members of Parliament, museum partners, senior foreign diplomats and numerous others, have toured Saadiyat’s construction sites and worker housing facilities and have praised both the quality of the conditions and the standard provided. The efforts and processes have led many to single out TDIC as a leader that has set a high benchmark for the region’s construction industry and serves as a model for improving labour conditions in the region.”

“To ensure compliance with the EPP, TDIC has retained international auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, PwC, to independently monitor the works on Saadiyat throughout the year and release its findings to the public at the end of every year.”

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