Trade unions, human rights activists and politicians have called for urgent labour reforms to protect the thousands of migrant workers building a complex of five-star hotels and museums on Saadiyat Island in the United Arab Emirates, including a new Louvre and the world's largest Guggenheim.
The International Trade Union Confederation and art activism group Gulf Labor have urged the western institutions involved in the project, including the British Museum, to take active steps to address the workers' welfare and press the UAE government to improve their conditions.
The calls come as an Observer investigation found evidence that the emirate's tourism development and investment company (TDIC), which runs Saadiyat, is failing to uphold its own employment policies, with workers left destitute, confined to their quarters and sent home for taking strike action. Migrant labourers building New York University's Abu Dhabi campus on the island were found to be suffering even worse mistreatment.
The investigation reveals that:
■ Companies are withholding the passports of migrant workers, trapping them in the UAE.
■ Thousands of workers are living in substandard or squalid conditions elsewhere in the UAE in apparent breach of the TDIC's pledge to house them all in its model Saadiyat accommodation village.
■ Dozens of workers were deported this year for striking over pay and conditions.