February 15, 2013 - Gulf Labor - Who Builds The Middle East? Gulf Labor at the Global South Asia Conference
February 15, 2013

Who Builds The Middle East? Gulf Labor at the Global South Asia Conference

Photo: Hans Haacke, 2011.

Who Builds The Middle East? Gulf Labor at the Global South Asia Conference
Saturday, February 16, 2013

1:30–3:15pm: Panel IIA: “The world of work”
Panelists: Walid Raad, Haig Aivazian, Mariam Ghani, Naeem Mohaiemen, Kadambari Baxi

“The Globalization of South Asia: Controversy, Critique, and Activism”
NYU, Tisch Hall
40 West 4th Street, New York, NY
Free & public


In “The Arab World’s Forgotten Rebellions,” Ahmed Kanna talks about foreign workers and biopolitics in the Gulf. While much is written about the wave of democratization movements led by Arab citizens, what is left untouched is the fate of millions of migrant workers, a sizable number of whom are South Asian, who keep many sectors of these countries running.

Members of Gulf Labor, along with Who Builds Your Architecture?, will present at the “Global South Asia” conference on Saturday, February 16th.

“The Globalization of South Asia: Controversy, Critique, and Activism”
1:30–3:15pm: Panel IIA: “The world of work”
Panelists:Walid Raad, Haig Aivazian, Mariam Ghani, Naeem Mohaiemen, Kadambari Baxi

Gulf Labor Public Statement (January 2013)
Gulf Labor [1] is a coalition of artists, writers, curators, educators and others working to ensure that workers’ rights are protected during the construction and maintenance of new cultural institutions on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi. Our work was initiated in response to a Human Rights Watch report [2] on labor conditions on Saadiyat Island.

In 2010, and after months of inconclusive conversations with the Guggenheim Foundation in New York, Gulf Labor initiated an artist boycott [3] of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. In 2011, Gulf Labor’s actions eventually led Abu Dhabi’s Tourism, Development & Investment Company (TDIC) to appoint PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) as monitor [4]. In September 2012, PwC published its first annual monitoring report [5]. Gulf Labor reviewed this report and issued a public response [6].

Gulf Labor now calls on all academic and cultural institutions building on Saadiyat Island to seek uniform and enforceable human rights protections for the workers working on their sites [7]. These protections should specifically address:

1. Recruitment fees and relocation costs paid by workers.
2. Poor and unsafe housing and living conditions [8].
3. Lack of freedom to form trade unions for collective bargaining or to change jobs.
4. Lack of open platforms for workers to express grievances without fear of recrimination.

We urge the Guggenheim Foundation to publicly respond to PwC’s report, and we continue to call on all parties in the region to publicly commit themselves to the welfare and fair working conditions of those who will be constructing these cultural institutions. In our consultations with the Guggenheim Foundation, we have highlighted the “Dhaka Principles,” devised by the Institute for Human Rights and Business [9] as a potential source for realistic guidelines that abide by internationally recognized standards of human rights.

Given the Guggenheim Foundation’s global program (particularly its recently launched Guggenheim UBS Global Map Art initiative [10], which is currently focused on contemporary art from South and Southeast Asia) and its own stated goals “to bring together artists, curators, and supporters of the arts across geographic boundaries to engage more deeply in the exponential expansion of the art world,” Gulf Labor thus encourages the Guggenheim to take a leading role along with its future neighbors in Abu Dhabi (Louvre Abu Dhabi, Zayed National Museum [11], New York University Abu Dhabi, among others) in promoting the introduction and observance of international standards of labor and human rights for all workers on Saadiyat Island [12].


Gulf Labor Working Group: Haig Aivazian, Ayreen Anastas, Doug Ashford, Shaina Anand, Doris Bittar, Tania Brugera, Sam Durant, Rene Gabri, Mariam Ghani, Hans Haacke, Brian Holmes, Rana Jaleel, Guy Mannes-Abbott, Naeem Mohaiemen, Walid Raad, Michael Rakowitz, Andrew Ross, Ashok Sukumaran, Gregory Sholette, Beth Stryker, Murtaza Vali.

[1] gulflabor.wordpress.comwhobuilds.org
[2] 2009 report: www.hrw.org/reports/2009/05/18/island-happiness-0; 2012 follow-up report: www.hrw.org/reports/2012/03/21/island-happiness-revisited-0
[3] gulflabor.wordpress.com/sign-the-petition/
[4] www.tdic.ae/en/news/media-center/news/tdic-to-appoint-pwc-to-monitor-saadiyat-island-contractors-performance-in-the-area-of-worker-welfare.html
[5] www.tdic.ae/en/article/property-1/the-epps-2012-annual-independent-monitoring-report.html
[6] gulflabor.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/gulflabor_updateresponsetopwc_nov_2012.pdf
[7] In 2011 and 2012, between 10,000 and 19,000 migrants worked on Saadiyat Island. Their numbers are expected to increase in the next building phase. See PwC report page 10.
[8] www.tdic.ae/en/article/property-1/saadiyat-island-construction-village.html
[9] www.dhaka-principles.org
[10] www.guggenheim.org/guggenheim-foundation/collaborations/map
[11] The Zayed National Museum is developed with the advice of the British Museum.
[12] For more information on cultural institutions on Saadiyat Island, see www.saadiyatculturaldistrict.ae/en/saadiyat-cultural-district/partners

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