Last time Andrew Ross embarked on a visit to the United Arab Emirates, he was seeking to help migrants who were being prevented from leaving the country. Now, he can’t get in.
While UAE authorities evidently blocked the visit of the New York University professor citing vague “security concerns,” the abrupt refusal to allow him on the Emirati airline Etihad’s flight earlier this month suggests Ross is one of many activists who’ve gotten on the regime’s bad side for scrutinizing its human-rights track record. While Ross was grounded, the NYU Abu Dhabi campus’s marketing campaign continues to work overtime. One of many university outposts established in the hyper-developing Gulf region, NYU boasts of planting a liberal academic oasis in a money-encrusted authoritarian political landscape.
According to Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) latest report, the migrants who have worked on the NYU site on Saadiyat Island and related developments continue to suffer human rights violations. According to the report, issued last month as a follow-up a five-year investigation
employers are withholding workers’ wages and benefits, failing to reimburse them for recruiting fees, confiscating workers’ passports, and housing them in substandard accommodations. In the most serious cases, contractors working for the two government development entities on the NYU and Louvre sites apparently informed United Arab Emirates (UAE) authorities about the strike, leading to the arbitrary deportation of several hundred striking workers.
Under a repressive labor regime known as the kafala system, the workers’ bondage begins in their home countries through labor recruiters, who regularly impose massive fees that automatically tether impoverished workers to devastating debt, making it nearly impossible to break from an abusive employer. Moreover, they typically cannot exit the country without their boss’s approval.
Reports of epidemic levels of abuse and unsafe conditions at Western-branded mega-projects, from NYU to the Guggenheim to Qatar’s upcoming World Cup, have prompted international condemnation. Yet amid the region’s bottomless oil wealth, money seems to speak louder than “corporate social responsibility.”