Shane Ferro
Art market news and commentary by the staff of Art+Auction

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Artist-Activists Spot “Shortcomings” in Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Labor Report

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Secrecy and doubt still shroud the labor conditions at Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island, where the Guggenheim is building a new museum, according to the artist-led activist group GulfLabor. In a dispatch sent last week, the organization says it is concerned with both the rights of the migrant workers at the camp and with the labor monitor itself, PricewaterhouseCoopers, which they say has ties to the government.

GulfLabor, whose members include artists Doug Ashford, Hans Haacke, and Walid Raad, argues that PricewaterhouseCoopers shouldn’t have submitted its September 28th report to the state-run tourism board before releasing it to the public, allowing the agency to respond and potentially shape the findings. The group also worries that the report is based primarily on scheduled interviews with workers, providing a less transparent picture than if they had conducted surprise check-ups.

Still, the decision to publish the report at all is “a sign of [the tourism board] exerting effort towards addressing the condition of workers on Saadiyat Island,” the group writes. And there was still no shortage of problems outlined in the study, which found workers being required to pay recruitment fees, a lack of drinking water, poor living conditions overall, and few outlets to report abuses.

GulfLabor has requested a meeting with the Guggenheim to discuss the recent findings.

— Rachel Corbett

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Comments

  1. John Young says:

    Interesting that GulfLabor complains that …. “PricewaterhouseCoopers shouldn’t have submitted its September 28th report to the state-run tourism board before releasing it to the public, allowing the agency to respond and potentially shape the findings.”

    When GulfLabor sent a letter outlining their complaints and agreed to not release that letter to the public, until the foundation had time to review the matter…. “The Foundation requested some time in order to pursue the development of employment policies with their partners in Abu Dhabi, TDIC (The Abu Dhabi Tourism and Development Investment Company). We agreed not to make our letter public in the meantime.”

    You cannot have it both ways…

    Repectfully,

    John Young

  2. Naeem Mohaiemen says:

    @John Young, the phrasing you have attributed to GulfLabor (within quotes) is ArtInfo’s paraphrasing of our letter.

    The actual language on our letter was: “We concluded that the report itself requires closer scrutiny and contains serious issues related to how PwC has chosen to conduct its monitoring. For instance, it already contains within it TDIC’s responses and actions to the findings of the report, attempting to mitigate damage and requiring PwC to have first released its findings to TDIC privately. This indicates a level of collaboration that reaffirms our concerns over PwC’s neutrality. In addition, there is no indication how many of the site visits were actually “surprise visits” . The report acknowledges that: “The majority of the interviews were scheduled and conducted at the Saadiyat Island project’s construction office” i.e., in close proximity to and with knowledge of employers.”

    The full letter is viewable here:
    http://gulflabor.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/gulflabor_updateresponsetopwc_nov_2012.pdf

    And here:
    http://gulflabor.wordpress.com/2012/09/23/update/

  3. […] has threatened to boycott the new Guggenheim if it can’t guarantee worker’s rights and helped agitate for independent monitoring or labor conditions on Saadiyat Island. Its statement on Frieze New York explicitly draws parallels between the struggle for […]

  4. […] Of course this isn’t the only high-profile museum project afoot on a man-made island. Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island is slated to be home to major Middle Eastern outposts of the Louvre and, pending labor disputes, the Guggenheim. […]

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