Artist boycott of Guggenheim continues

Artists say they will continue to boycott the Guggenheim Museum over workers' rights on Saadiyat Island - despite Human Rights Watch praising developer over appointment of independent monitor to protect labourers.

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ABU DHABI // An international group of artists and curators is continuing to boycott the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi over worker conditions on Saadiyat Island, despite the appointment of a labour monitor.

In a statement published on the group’s website, the artists said the pledge would remain until the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC) made “significant new announcements” on how it would safeguard workers’ rights.

TDIC, the developer of the Guggenheim and Louvre museums in Abu Dhabi, last week appointed PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to ensure that contractors and subcontractors follow local labour laws.

PwC will interview workers in their native languages and carry out both scheduled and unannounced inspections of work sites and the Saadiyat construction village, which houses 10,000 workers.

However, the artists’ group Gulflabor said more needed to be done. In a letter to TDIC and the Guggenheim Foundation in May, the group called on the developer to select a monitor with no business ties to TDIC or Saadiyat contractors. The group also wanted a monitor approved by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“Although we are encouraged by the promise that PwC will conduct surprise site visits as well as release comprehensive reports to the public on its audits, we await to hear more details of the monitoring programmes that PwC will put in place,” Gulflabor said.

“We also await confirmation that PwC will consult with one of the HRW-recommended monitors as soon as possible to help it define a rigorous and transparent monitoring programme.”

A TDIC spokesman said it was dedicated to protecting workers' rights and would continue to ensure best practices were in place.
On Saturday, HRW called the appointment of PwC a "positive step", but urged TDIC to specify penalties for violators and compensation for workers.

In a 2009 report, HRW accused the UAE of exploiting workers by allowing unlawful practices such as recruitment fees.

Last week, TDIC said violators of its employment practices policy, which outlines protections related to health and safety, accommodation, insurance and wages, could face financial penalties and cancellation of their contracts.

The Guggenheim Foundation applauded the appointment of PwC and said it was "committed" to workers on Saadiyat Island and the integrity of the Guggenheim project.