October 4, 2016
To Signatories of the Gulf Labor Campaign
Subject: Gulf Labor Addresses Guggenheim’s Silence
We, the organizing committee of Gulf Labor, are writing to you with an update on our work.
Since 2010, we have advocated for labor rights guidelines for ethical museum construction and maintenance in the Gulf region. Our campaign focused on Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, but we have also been critical of the absence of labor rights at the already constructed NYU Abu Dhabi, the currently ongoing construction of Louvre Abu Dhabi, and other cultural institutions in the region. We have always understood this struggle to have global implications. The rights and fair wages we have advocated apply to precarious migrant workers, as much as to non-unionized citizen workers, who are building and maintaining global institutions that support and exhibit our work. Our hope is that labor rights won for workers in the Gulf would be an inspiration for institutions elsewhere.
In spite of several positive developments generated by our campaign – changes in employment regulations (EPP) on Saadiyat Island, periodic reports by Gulf Labor, official monitoring reports by PricewaterhouseCoopers, greater public awareness around migrant labor issues, affinity groups working on campaigns elsewhere – the Guggenheim leadership abruptly broke off meetings with Gulf Labor in April 2016. In response to this, Gulf Labor, the NGO coalition we had assembled, and a group of artists in Guggenheim’s “Storm is Blowing” show all joined in urging the Museum to return to the negotiating table with Gulf Labor and/or the NGO coalition.
We waited four months for a positive response from the Guggenheim or TDIC (Abu Dhabi’s Tourism, Development & Investment Company), but there was none. In the meantime, media reports show that the Finnish government has declined to fund the Guggenheim Helsinki, and that we are in the midst of a slowdown in spending on cultural activities in the Gulf. Key members of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi team left the project in fall 2016, following earlier departures of senior Guggenheim staff involved with the project in 2015.
When the Guggenheim walked away from six years of negotiations with Gulf Labor in April, director Richard Armstrong singled out our tactics as the reason. It now appears that this response was openly duplicitous. In fact, the museum leadership has also refused any further dialogue with the leading human rights organizations that Gulf Labor brought to the table.
For years, the Guggenheim has protested about being singled out among the arts institutions invested in Saadiyat Island. Accordingly, Human Rights Watch and the ITUC wrote to all three museums, inviting them to a summit in Brussels or London. While openly encouraging such an initiative, the Guggenheim (along with the British Museum) flatly turned down this invitation, and the Guggenheim never bothered to respond when further questioned by HRW and the ITUC about the future of dialogue with the NGOs. This is another bad decision on the part of the museum’s leadership. Either that or they are forbidden by their Gulf paymaster to talk to anyone with expertise in the field of human and labor rights.
In the meantime, the museum has declared its trust in the labor monitoring process overseen by TDIC. Here is our response to the latest monitoring report from PricewaterhouseCooper, which clearly shows how many of TDIC’s employee policies continue to go unenforced.
Here are the letters sent by the Guggenheim and the British Museum. The Louvre never responded at all.
Summary: In its 4th annual report, the PwC monitor reiterated its previous findings by reporting serious oversights and deficiencies in the Tourism Development & Investment Company’s compliance with its own Employment Practices Policy on Saadiyat Island. Moreover, some of the new findings suggest serious flaws in the monitor’s own methodologies.
On April 27, after the Guggenheim ended negotiations with Gulf Labor Coalition to protect workers in Abu Dhabi, members of G.U.L.F. used the walls of the Guggenheim museum in New York to send a message to the trustees. Their statement in full:
April 27, 2016
Tonight, the Global Ultra Luxury Faction (G.U.L.F.) used the walls of the Guggenheim Museum to send a clear message to the trustees of the Guggenheim Foundation. We also took the message to the building of the chairman of the board. A museum that seeks to profit from forced labor will be judged in public. The cynical marriage of ultra-luxury art and ultra-low wages is null and void.
The museum’s leaders broke trust by refusing further negotiations with the Gulf Labor Coalition over fair labor standards in Abu Dhabi. As they try to walk away from justice, who will hold them to account?
Every Day is May Day
A Storm is Blowing from Saadiyat Island
Join us at Rivington Place in London on November 19th for the launch of our new book, “The Gulf: High Culture/Hard Labor.”
Join us on Friday, October 2nd, at the Vera List Center in New York City for the launch of our new book, “The Gulf: High Culture/Hard Labor.”
An intervention at the Biennale: G.U.L.F and Gulf Labor at Venice.
August 2, 2015.
The banner that marks the participation of the Gulf Labor Coalition at the 56th Venice Biennale in the Arsenale receives an intervention.
The migration panel in the Arena reframes the discussion around migrant labor in the UAE, and on Saadiyat island.
G.U.L.F members read a Statement on Palestine in the Arena.
A PUBLIC MEETING is called for at the Israeli Pavilion; the pavilion is occupied
Gulf Labor Coalition is presenting three events at the Biennial including 1) a program of informational panels that will focus on our ongoing research into the nexus of art+labor+capital as it is congealing in Abu Dhabi and the UAE at the Arena, 2) a celebratory pageant performance at S.a.L.E.-Docks and 3) the launch of our new book also at S.a.L.E.-Docks in only a few weeks. The program is as below:
Paula Chakravartty, a member of Gulf Labor Coalition, responds to an article published in ArtFCity on June 3rd titled, “Too Little Too Late: The Art World’s Letter-Writing Campaign to the UAE.”
The Association for Modern and Contemporary Art of the Arab World, Iran and Turkey (AMCA) has expressed solidarity with the artists and academics denied entry into the United Arab Emirates. AMCA is an international organization whose aim is to advance the study of modern and contemporary art in the Arab World, Iran and Turkey.
Their statement in full: