Forced Labor at NYU Abu Dhabi:
Compliance at the Cosmopolitan University

A new report prepared by the Coalition for Fair Labor, Forced Labor at NYU Abu Dhabi: Compliance and the Global University, clearly documents New York University's labor violations in the construction and operations of its Abu Dhabi campus over the last 9 years.  In addition to permitting forced labor conditions for tens of thousands of migrant workers, NYU Abu Dhabi arguably owes workers several million dollars in overdue compensation and continues to put hundreds of workers at risk.  

A 2015 independent investigation of labor conditions for 30,000 construction workers employed in building NYU Abu Dhabi's $1 billion campus found “significant errors” in programs meant to protect against labor violations.  According to that report, 87% of those interviewed had their passports held by their employers and nearly all workers paid recruitment costs and fees out of their own pockets—two strong indicators of the use of forced labor.  Despite committing in 2010 to reimburse these costs, NYU never compensated workers for these violations, instead describing its labor standards as an “exceptional model” that NYU “should be extremely proud of.”  

This new report is the first complete record of publicly known information about labor at NYU Abu Dhabi, and concludes that NYU is still falling far short of implementing the fair standards, due diligence, and best practices that are expected from a university with a global network of overseas campuses. 


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Key Findings

This report is the first public document to analyze the issue of forced labor in the context of the construction and operations of NYU Abu Dhabi.

We find:

  • In construction of its campus from 2010 to 2014, NYU Abu Dhabi likely allowed forced labor conditions for up to 30,000 workers — its entire construction workforce. Forced labor is not only a grave ethical violation, it is a violation of international law and UAE law.
  • For its current operational workforce, NYU Abu Dhabi remains far below standard practices for addressing forced labor, creating an ongoing and avoidable risk of forced labor through present day. 

  • NYU Abu Dhabi has not paid in recruitment costs and fees amounting to several million dollars it promised would be reimbursed in 2009 and which were not paid in a "significant error," according to a 2015 investigation. In contrast, the single best practice among multinationals is to reimburse such costs and fees; for 30,000 comparable workers in its supply chain, Apple paid $21 million, and FIFA 2022 World Cup stadium contractors in Qatar have committed to $5 million. 


Key Recommendations

We think that an institution that aims to be a Global Network University should be able to support a 21st century global architecture of compliance that can guarantee certain minimums of treatment.

NYU should:

  • Comply with relevant UAE laws, including UAE law prohibiting forced labor.

  • Assess the risk of forced labor at NYU Abu Dhabi, with professional expertise from an independently appointed entity.

  • Eliminate the risk of forced labor to the greatest extent possible through labor standards consistent with relevant best practices. 

  • Track implementation. In response to media inquiries raised as a result of this report, NYU Abu Dhabi released a public monitoring report on May 9, 2016 that does not monitor forced labor and is two years late. 

  • Remedy violations. NYU Abu Dhabi has been involved with serious harms that are in violation of relevant law. NYU Abu Dhabi has an obligation to remedy harms for those workers actually affected, to acknowledge the harms, and to commit to non-repetition. 



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credits and acknowledgments

This report is written by the Coalition for Fair Labor. Primary author is Sahiba Gill, J.D. Candidate '18, NYU School of Law. 

Many thanks to support from the NYU Gallatin Human Rights Initiative as well as to those who contributed research and editing to this report, including Alex Boodrookas, Nora Christiani, Dierdre Dugoleski, Hannah Fullerton, Tess Graham, Samah McGona Sisay, Audrey-Marie Winn, and Mia Wong. Victoria Grubbs, Selene Nafisi, Fernanda Nunes, Alejandro Villa Vasquez, and Suraiya Zubair-Banu provided copy editing and cite checking. 

Harris Kornstein provided the graphic design and Nitasha Dhillon provided art. 

The following faculty reviewed prior to publication: 

Sinan Antoon, Associate Professor, NYU Gallatin 

John Archer, Professor of English, NYU Arts & Sciences 

Mohamad Bazzi, Associate Professor of Journalism, NYU Arts & Sciences 

Paula Chakravartty, Associate Professor, NYU Gallatin and Media, Culture and Communication, NYU Steinhardt 

Natasha Iskander, Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Public Service, NYU Wagner 

Rebecca Karl, Professor of History, NYU Arts & Sciences 

Arang Keshavarzian, Associate Professor of Middle Eastern Studies, NYU Arts & Sciences 

Zachary Lockman, Professor of of Middle Eastern Studies and History, NYU Arts & Sciences 

Anna McCarthy, Professor and Chair of the Department of Cinema Studies, NYU Tisch

Vasuki Nesiah, Associate Professor of Practice, NYU Gallatin 

Molly Nolan, Professor of History, NYU Arts & Sciences 

Crystal Parikh, Associate Professor of English and Social & Cultural Analysis, NYU Arts & Sciences 

Andrew Ross, Professor of Social & Cultural Analysis, NYU Arts & Sciences