Louvre Abu Dhabi Admits Worker Death After Gulf Labor Letter


A 28-year-old Pakistani worker was killed in an accident on the site of the Louvre Abu Dhabi last month, according to a spokesperson for Agence France-Muséums (AFM). “Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC), the master developer in charge of the construction of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, has informed AFM of the accident which happened on 8th of June 2015 at the Louvre Abu Dhabi construction site which resulted in the death of a 28-year-old Pakistani worker,” Ugo Bertoni, a spokesperson for the French museums authority, told ARTINFO in an email in response to queries linked to an open letter published earlier this week by the Gulf Labor activist group.

In their open letter, addressed to Louvre and AFM officials and timed to coincide with Bastille Day, the Gulf Labor group “express [their] deep concerns about recent and ongoing events on  Saadiyat,” the cultural megadevelopment of which the Louvre and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi outposts are a part. Among more general questions posed by the activist group in their letter is a request for confirmation of the “recent” death of a Pakistani worker reported to the group by their “Abu Dhabi sources.” TDIC, the Emirati state entity responsible for the Jean Nouvel-designed Louvre Abu Dhabi project, is required by its own Employment Practices Policy to report and record “major incidents such as occupational injuries, near misses and fatalities.”

A number of significant French museums, including the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay, are set to receive $1.3 billion in loan and licensing fees from the Emiratis over the course of the 30-year Louvre Abu Dhabi agreement in a deal overseen by AFM. “For France, the Louvre museum in Abu Dhabi is an exceptional building site,” the French president François Hollande said last year.

“Agence France-Muséums is deeply saddened by this tragic accident and has immediately sent its condolences to the family, relatives, and colleagues of the victim,” Bertoni, the AFM spokesperson, told ARTINFO. “Agence France-Muséums, which is not in charge of the construction of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, has immediately questioned TDIC and has been regularly updated about the conditions of this accident and its following developments,” he added, noting that the “definitive conclusions” of an investigation initiative by police and Emirati authorities would be released at the end of July.

The death is the first to be reported on the project since work began on the Louvre Abu Dhabi in January 2013, and such fatalities are not on face unusual in large-scale construction projects: Two laborers were killed during the construction of Manhattan’s “Freedom Tower” at 1 World Trade Center. But the fatality comes after years of criticism surrounding labor and human rights conditions on Saadiyat Island, especially those connected to its New York University, Guggenheim, and Louvre outposts. To that end, the rest of Gulf Labor’s missive, which also highlights recent “letters of protest… from CIMAML’Internationalenumerous international curators and also the curators of Documenta” prompted by Emirates travel bans instituted against members of its group, has not yet elicited a specific response from Louvre or AFM authorities.

“Agence France-Muséums received the Gulf Labor letter only on the 13th of July and we are reviewing it,” Bertoni said. Jean Nouvel’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

The full text of Gulf Labor’s open letter to the Louvre and AFM follows below: 

July 13, 2015


Manuel Rabaté, Directeur Général, Agence France-Muséums, Paris
Jean-François Charnier, Directeur Scientifique, Agence France-Muséums, Paris
Jean-Luc Martinez, President-Director, Musée du Louvre, Paris

Dear representatives of the Louvre Abu Dhabi,

As you know, Gulf Labor is a cultural coalition that has been working since 2010 to secure better conditions for workers on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi. Our ongoing work is documented here: http://gulflabor.org/timeline/

We are writing to you to express our deep concerns about recent and ongoing events on  Saadiyat. We believe the Louvre Abu Dhabi has the ability to play a positive role in worker’s conditions on Saadiyat Island.

1.  Visits over the last two years to Saadiyat Island, to the official workers accommodation village and related workers housing sites have demonstrated to us that while there are cosmetic and media-friendly improvements, structural issues remain unresolved.

Our 2014 report is here (pdf), and the 2015 report is forthcoming. Based on our research, supported by practically every recent report including that of Human Rights Watch, we can conclude that the main problems around worker debt, very poor pay and workers inability to organize collectively, remain unaddressed. The latest PwC monitoring report flagged numerous failures to comply with TDIC EPP provisions. We also saw via the Nardello and Co. report on NYU Abu Dhabi, that workers abuse was ongoing even in a highly publicized project such as the NYU.

We therefore would like to ask the Louvre Abu Dhabi the following questions:

a) What has been learnt by the Louvre AD over the past two years of construction activity, about the conditions of workers welfare?

b) What are Louvre AD and its UAE partners’ specific plans to bring in changes to workers welfare, the treatment of striking workers, and the conduct of the main contractor Arabtec?

c) We have heard from Abu Dhabi sources that a Pakistani worker was recently killed while working on the Louvre AD site. Can the Louvre AD confirm that this happened, and what subsequent steps have been taken?

2. In the past months, artists and academics have been barred from the UAE, and letters of protest against this have come from CIMAML’Internationalenumerous international curators and also the curators of Documenta. These letters were also addressed to the Louvre, both in Paris and Abu Dhabi.

a)  What is the Louvre’s position on these bars on academic and artistic freedoms in, and travel to, the UAE?

b) As the first international cultural institution set to open on Saadiyat, does the Louvre have a set of ethical guidelines (beyond TDIC’s EPP document) that will relate to freedom of expression concerns, as well as workers welfare?

We would appreciate your swift response, as conditions on the Saadiyat Island projects are of urgent concern, and we may have an opportunity to change them through serious collective action.

Gulf Labor Coalition

Mostafa Heddaya (@mheddaya)

(Photo: Rendering for Jean Nouvel’s Louvre Abu Dhabi design, via Flickr.)