Thursday, Jul 24, 2014 09:03 am est

Revived coalition brings labor issues to administration

Posted on May 21, 2014 | by Nicole Brown

Courtesy of NYUAD

The Coalition for Fair Labor at NYU sent a petition to the administration of NYU and NYU Abu Dhabi requesting three changes regarding labor rights of workers in Abu Dhabi.

The coalition is a student-faculty alliance that advocates for high labor standards on NYU projects. It had played a role in NYU’s adoption of labor standards when it started construction in Abu Dhabi, but was dormant for a few years. This semester, CAS junior Kristina Bogos, with the help of social and cultural analysis professor Andrew Ross, revived the coalition, which now has 19 members.

The petition on has 261 signatures as of press time and was sent to the administration on May 16. Both students and faculty at NYU New York and NYUAD are among the signatories.

The first request in the petition is to hire a new monitor for the workforce operating and maintaining the new campus on Saadiyat Island, which would replace current monitor Mott MacDonald. The coalition says Mott MacDonald has not found violations of labor rights that other organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and Gulf Labor, have.

The second request is for a code of conduct for U.A.E. domestic workers, who have no protection under U.A.E. labor law.

Lastly, the coalition has requested that NYU work to help change the kafala system in Abu Dhabi, which monitors the migrant laborers, through research initiatives.

“We ask, in particular, that NYU devote resources to implementing the recommendations made by Gulf Labor in its May 2014 report, including, but not limited to, payment of a relocation fee for workers to settle their recruitment debts; formation of workers’ councils at NYUAD and on the surrounding island projects; establishment of a Saadiyat Island living wage to enable workers to select accommodation of their choosing; and cooperation with the [International Labor Organization] to help design and implement these and other recommendations,” the petition says.

Tisch sophomore and coalition member Emma Dolhai said she was not aware of the conditions of the workers until recent news coverage of the labor camps.

“NYU has the responsibility to make sure that their contractors uphold [human rights],” Dolhai said. “I, for one, do not want an education that is in any way owing to the suffering of others.”

A recent New York Times article, “Workers at N.Y.U.’s Abu Dhabi Site Faced Harsh Conditions,“ which was banned in the Emirates, brought more attention to violations of labor rights, citing abuse and deportation of workers. The article also said many workers had to pay recruitment fees, work 11 to 12 hours a day six or seven days a week with lower wages than they were promised, did not have possession of their passports and lived with up to 15 men in one room, all of which violate the labor standards NYU set.

NYU President John Sexton sent a university-wide email yesterday responding to the article.

“We are working with our Abu Dhabi partners to investigate these reports and seek more information on these cases to determine why, if the claims are accurate, they were not picked up by the compliance monitor, and to try to correct, to the extent still possible, any lapses in compliance,” Sexton wrote in the email.

NYU spokesman John Beckman said the university will be responding to the coalition about the petition soon, but noted that the relationships with contracted workers in operational jobs, including food service, transportation and public safety, have been successful.

“No one has raised a question about compliance issues with those workers,” Beckman said. “The Times story focused on construction workers; the contracts for those firms are not with NYU but with the entity developing the Saadiyat campus.”
Beckman added that working to address the issues with U.A.E. domestic workers is already under consideration and being discussed by the staff at NYUAD.

NYUAD professor Seung-Hoon Jeong, who signed the petition, said he hopes the coalition will bring more serious attention to NYU’s promise of labor rights.

“Ultimately I hope this collective voice would help bring gradual if not rapid change to labor conditions in the U.A.E. [and] Middle East at large, and NYUAD could be a catalyst,” Jeong said.

Ross said this is a chance for faculty and students, both in New York and Abu Dhabi, to work together.

“Even though this is another example of NYU’s name being tarnished, there’s a real opportunity here to do something proactive and positive,” Ross said.

Jeong added that the issue of human rights is complex.

“Labor exploitation is globally pervasive to various degrees and the U.S. is no exception in that you can’t really draw an absolute line between tolerable and intolerable conditions,” Jeong said. “Human rights are a relative concept.”

*Kristina Bogos was WSN features editor in spring 2013.

Nicole Brown is editor-in-chief. Email her at


profile portrait
Felipe De La Hoz

Multimedia Editor | Felipe De La Hoz is a Colombian national studying journalism at the College of Arts and Sciences. Having been born in Colombia and raised in the United States, Mexico and Brazil, Felipe is a trilingual travel aficionado and enjoys working in varied and difficult environments. Apart from his photography, Felipe enjoys investigative reporting and interviews, interviewing the likes of Colombian ex-M-19 guerrilla fighters and controversial politician Jimmy McMillan. He has covered everything from governmental conferences to full-blown riots, as well as portraiture shoots and dining photography. Having worked under Brazilian photojournalists for Reuters and AFP, Felipe hopes to one day work on demanding journalistic projects and contribute to the global news cycle.

Ann Schmidt

News Editor | Ann is a liberal studies sophomore who lived in Florence during her freshman year. She plans on double-majoring in journalism and political science and is always busy. She is constantly making lists and she loves to laugh.


Daniel Yeom

Daniel started at the Features desk of WSN last Spring, writing restaurant reviews whilst indulging on free food and consequently getting fat. Last Fall, he was the dining editor, and he this semester he is senior editor. Daniel is in Gallatin (living the dream) studying Food & Travel Narratives, incorporating aspects of Food Studies, Journalism, and Media, Culture, and Communication. He loves food more than life itself.

Hannah Luu

Deputy Multimedia Editor | Hannah Luu is a ridiculously great Deputy Multimedia Editor. She is a sophomore from Northern California. If you think Northern California means San Francisco you might need to closely examine a map. She is passionate about NPR and being half Asian.

  • How to join:

    The Washington Square News holds open weekly budget meetings at its office located at 838 Broadway every Sunday. All are welcome to attend, no matter your background in journalism, writing, or reporting. Specific times for meetings by desk are listed below. If you wish to talk to an editor before you attend, feel free to check out the Staff page.

    5 P.M. 6 P.M. 6 P.M. 6:30 P.M. 6:30 P.M. 7 P.M.

    Applying for an editor position: Applications for editor positions during the fall or spring semesters are available twice each academic year and can be found here when posted. Applications for the Fall 2012 semester are closed, but check back for Spring 2013. Those who wish to apply are urged to publish pieces in the newspaper and contact current editors for shadowing.

    History of the Washington Square News:

    The Washington Square News is the official daily student newspaper of New York University and serves the NYU, Greenwich Village, and East Village communities. Founded as an independent newspaper in 1973, the WSN allows its undergraduate writers and photographers to cover campus and city news and continues to grow its strong body of award-winning journalists and photographers.

  • The WSN has a circulation of about 60,000 and can be found in over a hundred purple bins distributed throughout campus. It is published Monday through Thursday during the fall and spring semesters and online on Friday, with additional special issues published in the summer. The newspaper recently revamped its website during the Fall 2012 semester.

    Like few campus newspapers in the country, the paper is editorially and financially independent from the university and is solely responsible for selling advertisements to fund its production. The WSN, including its senior staff, is run solely by current undergraduate students and the business-division is largely student-operated as well.

    A Board of Directors comprised of alumni, NYU professors and working news media professionals serves as advisors to the paper. Board members have no control in the WSN's editorial policy or newsroom operations. Alumni of the newspaper are established and leading journalists in such news organizations as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, NBC news, ABC news, Fox News, and USA Today.