Category Archives: Letters

A Letter to the Louvre

Image: Saadiyat Island, courtesy Gulf Labor

The Louvre Abu Dhabi is addressed in several recent letters from the international art community to UAE-based institutions.  In an attempt to establish direct contact,  get a response from the Louvre on a growing list of points of worry, and extend our concerns and solidarities regarding ongoing activity on Saadiyat Island to France,  Gulf Labor sends the below open letter to the Louvre.

__________ (In French, and English below)
Continue reading A Letter to the Louvre

Letter from Six Documenta Curators to Institutions in the UAE

July 2, 2015

HE Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, Chairman, Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, Abu Dhabi, UAE.

Richard Armstrong, Director, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation, New York, NY, USA.
William Mack, Chairman, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York, NY, USA.
John Sexton, President, New York University, New York, NY, USA.
Al Bloom, Vice Chancellor, New York University Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Carol Brandt, Associate Vice Chancellor, New York University Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Manuel Rabaté, Directeur Général, Agence France-Muséums, Paris, France.
Jean-François Charnier, Directeur Scientifique, Agence France-Muséums, Paris, France.
Jean-Luc Martinez, President-Director, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.
Neil MacGregor, Director, British Museum, London, UK.
Sheikha Hoor Al-Qasimi, President, Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah, UAE

We write to you today as the current and former Artistic Directors of Documenta, the most widely visited and respected periodic exhibition of contemporary art, held since the end of World War II in the German City of Kassel. Documenta has marked the most significant moments in the history of Modern and Contemporary Art since the mid twentieth century, and prides itself for its research-oriented approach and for having a particular focus on the relations between art and society at large. It has contributed to processes of civil society building and democratization around the world through its presentation of great and concerned works of art. Continue reading Letter from Six Documenta Curators to Institutions in the UAE

March & April: Letters to Guggenheim

Richard Armstrong, Director, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation
Nancy Spector, Deputy Director, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

April 18, 2015

Dear Richard and Nancy,

We sent a letter to you on March 16, 2015, with three specific proposals. Namely –
the reimbursement of workers recruitment fees by creation of a Debt Settlement Fund, the establishment of a fair wage based on published and ongoing scholarly research, and the guarantee of workers rights to collectively address grievances, on Saadiyat Island. We stated that a positive response could lead us in the direction of the boycott being lifted.

We also asked for a clear and transparent response to these proposals by April 15. Despite the assurance that you would get back “after Richard’s return from Abu Dhabi, where he is currently meeting about labor issues” we have not heard back from you.

Yesterday, Nardello and Co’s report on the construction of NYU Abu Dhabi was published. It makes clear that the protection of workers against abuse failed on several counts, for about 10,000 workers, on the grounds of Saadiyat Island over the past five years. Many of their findings are consistent with what we and other reporters have been saying is wrong on Saadiyat Island.

For example on the issue of reimbursement of “1,000 to 3,000 USD” recruitment fees paid by practically all workers, and on the fact that only 20 out of 30,000 workers were actually reimbursed, the report states:
If the intention of the Labor Guidelines concerning recruitment fees was to release workers from the debt that effectively bound them to their UAE employers, then reimbursement should have been provided under guidelines that reflected the complexities of the situation, rather than interpretations that effectively disqualified all workers from reimbursement. In practice, this would have involved providing a lump sum amount – without requiring proof of payment – to all workers on the Main Campus Project.”

On the matter of workers right to express and resolve grievances collectively, the report found that the NYU Statement of Labor Values’ “edict that ‘no worker shall be subject to harassment, intimidation, or retaliation in their efforts to resolve work disputes’ is at odds with UAE’s criminalization of striking, the most powerful tool workers have to address grievances.” The report recommends that “It is essential that workers have a confidential reporting channel to the compliance monitor that allows them to address grievances without the employer’s knowledge”.

If all this seems like familiar language, it is because so little has effectively changed on Saadiyat Island. For example on the longstanding matter of passport confiscation which seems far from satisfactorily resolved, the report acknowledges that workers do not have sufficient control over their own passports, and should be provided with “access to fireproof and easily accessible lock boxes”.

There is by now an inescapable body of facts about labor conditions on Saadiyat Island, which have been essentially reiterated by report after report, whether issued by corporate, human rights or media agencies, over the past decade. Gulf Labor’s three proposals address recruitment debt, poor wages and the workers right to collective negotiation, all of which have NOT improved over all these years. The NYU Abu Dhabi example shows us again that merely drafting a policy and hoping for a better monitoring process has not worked, and proactive steps have to be taken, or else the abuse continues. NYU today stated that they will retroactively compensate thousands of affected workers who worked on their Saadiyat campus. Gulf Labor has outlined clearly what some more proactive steps can be, concretely. What does the Guggenheim intend to do, concretely?

In the hope of receiving a long-overdue response to this rather straightforward question, we are now making this and our original letter, reproduced below, public.


Gulf Labor Working Group


Letter dated March 16, 2015

Richard Armstrong, Director, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation
Nancy Spector, Deputy Director, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Dear Richard and Nancy,

With this letter, Gulf Labor is asking that the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi take independent action to ensure that the workers who are building the museum are not exploited. It seems clear to us that such action must be taken before construction begins.

Gulf Labor proposes that:

1. Guggenheim Abu Dhabi create a Debt Settlement Fund (DSF) to compensate every worker who is building its museum on Saadiyat Island an additional $2,000 on top of wages earned (or, assuming an aggregate workforce of 7500—as in the case of the Louvre — around $15 million in additional total payments to workers). The DSF will address one of the most intractable labor problems in the UAE: recruitment debt. Independent investigators have established that the average recruitment debt burden per worker is $2000. (1)

2. Guggenheim Abu Dhabi ensures a fair wage for all workers employed on its construction site. Recent scholarly analysis of the UAE migrant labor market has demonstrated that wages are depressed by at least 25% relative to previous levels of compensation. (2) Moreover, our own research has found great disparities among workers, based on the place of origin, caste and community and terms of contract, even for the same work. We will work with the museum to establish a living wage for all workers on the site. This living wage will compensate both for the 25% wage depression and for the disparities cited above.

3. Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will work to guarantee workers have the freedom to associate and the right to collectively address grievances. This will prevent the growing cycle of intimidation and violence, imprisonment and deportation that has taken place, especially since 2013.

Gulf Labor remains dedicated to thinking creatively about solutions for insuring fair conditions for the workers on Saadiyat Island. We are open to constructive negotiations, including the possibility of lifting the boycott.

Gulf Labor believes that this proposal is in the interests of all parties concerned: the workers, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, the Guggenheim Museum and Foundation, Abu Dhabi’s Tourism and Culture Authority, and the Tourism Development Investment Corporation (TDIC).

In the hopes of keeping the doors open to further negotiations, Gulf Labor strongly urges the Guggenheim to provide a clear, proactive and transparent answer to this proposal by April 15, 2015. Time is of the essence.


Gulf Labor Working Group







Gulf Labor Letter to Guggenheim (June 2014)

To the Director, Deputy Director, Abu Dhabi Project Manager, and Abu Dhabi Curator of the Guggenheim Museum:

It was good to meet together last Friday. As we emphasized in the meeting, now that the construction tenders have gone out, the situation of the workers absolutely must be prioritized immediately, or the Guggenheim will find itself in the same position as NYU. Continue reading Gulf Labor Letter to Guggenheim (June 2014)