Guggenheim responds, nothing has changed

The below is a response from the Guggenheim Foundation to our letters of March 16 and April 18.  In point form below that, are Gulf Labor’s preliminary notes on what we consider an empty and factually incorrect missive from the Guggenheim. Points responded to are in bold (our emphases).  A more detailed response will follow shortly.

_________ Dated April 22, 2015

Dear Members of the Gulf Labor Working Group:

We note with interest your offer for constructive negotiations in relation to protections for the workers who will participate in the construction of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.

As we have shared with you previously, the Guggenheim has been in constant dialogue with Tourism Culture Authority Abu Dhabi (TCA) and Tourism Development Invest Company (TDIC) about workers’ welfare, as well as in sustained conversations with other agencies of the UAE government and with international organizations that deal with issues related to migrant work in the UAE. Our focus has been on continued enhancements  to EPP provisions and a general strengthening of enforcement, monitoring and reporting.

Again, please recognize that the main construction contract for the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi has not yet been awarded. That said, we continue to pursue substantive improvements in anticipation of construction and have had several meetings in Abu Dhabi including as recently as last month.

The complex global issues surrounding migrant employment cannot be solved by a single project, but we are working fully within our sphere of influence to advocate for progress. Your continued isolation of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi as a symbol of indifference or inaction is neither accurate nor helpful to our shared aims.

Progress on several fronts has been made, and we are confident that more can be achieved through sustained and active engagement and by raising awareness of the health, safety, security and fair treatment of workers. Indeed, we welcome the announcement of the NYU Abu Dhabi Institute’s research initiative to develop greater understanding of the recruitment fees issue in particular.

Your proposals for a compensatory fund, as well as wage and bargaining changes are outside the Guggenheim’s range of authority. They are matters of federal law. We are committed to working cooperatively with our partners in the UAE to address these complex, intergovernmental issues.

We hope to work with you as well.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation


________ Gulf Labor’s preliminary response, April 23, 2015:

1. It is within the Guggenheim’s powers to initiate a worker’s debt fund. The EPP (Employment Practices Policy) on its own project states: “15.2 Recruitment Fees. The Contractor shall reimburse Employees for any Recruitment Fees paid by them, without deductions being imposed on their remuneration.”  Do the Guggenheim and its UAE partners intend to honor this clause, or change it?
2.  It is within the Guggenheim’s authority to seek decent wages and conditions for workers building its museum, in the same way it is within its authority to seek that the museum building is built to the right specifications.  These standards must be built into the contracting and monitoring systems that are being put into place as we speak.
3. None of the above require changes in UAE federal law. In what sense are they “matters of federal law”?
4. We agree that the Guggenheim should not be isolated. We have been approaching it because it is part of our community. Similarly, NYU Abu Dhabi on the same campus has been approached by its community, which overlaps with ours. The NYUAD example this week showed us that “progress on several fronts” has not been made. It is quite shameful, not “welcome” to now initiate research and compensation schemes after 30,000 workers over 5 years have paid out an average of 2,000 USD in recruitment fees, and received an average of 217 USD a month in wages. Proactive steps have to be taken, but it is still not clear what those steps will be for the Guggenheim. What has the Guggenheim’s “constant dialogue” with the Abu Dhabi authorities including its partners the Tourism and Culture Authority and the Tourism Development and Investment Company (both misspelt in your letter) yielded? Why is there such a shortage of positive imagination on workers’ welfare issues? 

5.  Whatever result may come on a governmental level or by involving international organizations, it is still up to institutions such as the Guggenheim to make clear their mechanisms for insuring that workers will not be abused on their sites –  in the building process as well as in their daily operations. It is evident by the findings of the Nardello report that institutions such as NYU will have to respond substantively to shortcomings of law or implementation of policies. The question is whether the Guggenheim, the Louvre or the British Museum for that matter, will be taking these measures in advance or after the fact to save face. We hope the former.



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