NYU and its local partner Tamkeen have been committed from the outset to ensuring fair working and living conditions for those who built and operate the NYU Abu Dhabi campus. To that end a pioneering set of labor standards built on UAE law and market-leading practices was established.
In 2014, reports appeared in the media indicating that some workers did not receive the wages and benefits they should have under the project’s labor standards. To get to the bottom of the issues raised by the reports, an independent reviewer was hired to investigate these claims: the New York-based investigations firm, Nardello & Company, led by a former U.S. Federal prosecutor.
Nardello & Co.’s findings were published in April 2015. The report confirmed that the project partners made good faith efforts to set and enforce standards that protected and benefited the majority of the approximately 30,000 individuals who worked on the construction of the NYU Abu Dhabi campus. Nardello & Co. also, however, found that around one-third of workers, employed on smaller and short-term contracts mostly during the final stage of the project, fell outside of the compliance program.
In response to this finding, NYU and Tamkeen promptly took responsibility, and publicly committed to providing one-time payments to these workers – to bring their compensation into line with what they should have received under our standards.
Currie & Brown, a global construction consultancy, were appointed in June 2015 as the project’s independent administrators to identify and find the relevant workers and to make the payments. This process presented significant challenges. Typical of major construction projects, workers were employed by several hundred different subcontractors and sub-subcontractors. Amongst these subcontractors, the degree of record keeping was varied, several companies were no longer operating, and many workers had changed employers or left the UAE.
The overall approach employed several strategies to identify, contact, and pay the workers, beginning with employer outreach, and concluding with direct outreach to workers. The process involved several thousand phone calls and pieces of correspondence with employers; 1,000 visits to more than 260 worker accommodation sites by a team of multilingual staff; an advertising campaign including the distribution of posters and flyers in seven languages; and a toll-free SMS and 24/7 hotline service to allow workers who had seen the posters to reach out directly.
To-date 8,600 workers have been identified; of these 6,600 have been paid, and 2,000 are eligible to be paid pending further contact details. The vast majority of the 2,000 are believed to have returned to their home countries, and we are contacting those for whom we have mailing addresses – approximately 1,500 individuals.
The active phase of the program will end this summer, however individual claims will continue to be processed when they are received.