In 2007, we set out to create an outstanding new liberal arts research university, an institution that would have the highest academic standards, draw in the finest students, and recruit the finest faculty. We also established a set of labor standards, built upon UAE law and market-leading practices, designed to ensure that the institution’s commitment would extend to those who were building and maintaining the University’s facilities.
In 2014, several media outlets published a series of allegations regarding violations of these labor standards, which led Tamkeen, NYU’s local partner, to appoint an independent reviewer, Nardello & Co., to investigate these claims.
We welcome the publication of Nardello & Co.’s report, which confirms that Tamkeen and NYU made good faith efforts to set and enforce standards that protected and benefited the substantial majority of the approximately 30,000 individuals who worked on the construction of the NYU Abu Dhabi campus. The report also acknowledges that the labor monitoring compliance program effectively and routinely identified and resolved issues of contractor non-compliance.
The report also identifies that the organizations responsible for the project allowed a compliance gap to occur, which resulted in some subcontractors, employed by the project’s master contractor, falling outside of the project’s labor guidelines and compliance oversight. This gap affected workers servicing small and/or short-term sub-contracts (approximately one-third of the total workforce), most of whom worked on the project during the final stages of construction.
That error – for which we take responsibility – was inconsistent with the project’s publicly stated commitment to ensure that all of those working on the construction of the NYUAD Saadiyat Campus would be covered by our standards and compliance-monitoring program.
Accordingly, we will provide payment to those workers who were not covered by the compliance-monitoring program to bring their compensation into line with what they should have received under our labor standards. NYU and Tamkeen will appoint an independent third party to implement this process, and we commit to ensuring that we will not allow such a compliance gap to occur in the future.
The report also found some remaining isolated cases of workers who, while covered by the project’s compliance regime, did not receive the full amount of wages they should have, and we are committed to rectifying those situations as well.
In addition, Nardello & Co. made a number of recommendations for the project, including on how standards are enforced, passport retention, and accommodation standards. These recommendations will be studied in depth and, where feasible, we intend to act on them.
One of these recommendations concerns recruitment fees, which the report acknowledges are a complex, multijurisdictional challenge that cannot be resolved by an individual project. The intention of our policy was to ensure that the NYUAD project did not cause workers to pay recruitment fees – which are illegal in the UAE but common in many workers’ home countries. Though we initially considered a variety of approaches to accomplish this goal, ultimately we settled upon a standard: workers who were newly hired to come to the UAE to join the NYUAD project, and could present evidence of having paid recruitment fees, would have those fees reimbursed. The project’s labor compliance monitor, on a number of occasions, found those who claimed to have paid a recruitment fee but the payments were made to work on projects prior to NYUAD. In the small number of cases where a person claimed fees were paid to work on NYUAD, they could not be substantiated, and therefore fell outside of the policy’s scope.
As a means to be part of the solution around the recruitment fees challenge, and in keeping with the NYU Abu Dhabi Institute’s mandate to explore topics of global consequence, the Institute will launch a research initiative to develop greater understanding of this significant issue. The goal of this project will be to identify potential solutions, upon which we – or others – could act, and to contribute to the important work that is underway in this area.