By Andy Sambidge
Tourism firm issues statement after Human Rights Watch says artists to boycott $800m Guggenheim project
The Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC) said on Friday it was about to appoint a new company to monitor the welfare of construction workers on Saadiyat Island.
Abu Dhabi's tourism development company issued a statement after it was reported that 130 artists, including prominent names in the Arab art world, pledged to boycott the $800m Guggenheim museum being built on the island unless the welfare of foreign labourers improves.
In a statement released by Human Rights Watch on Thursday, the artists’ group said it was responding to reports of worker abuses including unlawful recruiting fees and broken promises of wages.
In response, TDIC said in comments published by news agency WAM that it has "a long standing and deep commitment to protecting workers' rights", adding that it "fully respects and supports the artists' role in campaigning for this issue".
However, TDIC claimed HRW's announcement predated "more recent announcements made by TDIC relating to measures already taken to further safeguard the workers' rights".
The company said that a new internationally recognised consultancy would be appointed to meet the growing scope of work needed to monitor the performance of contractors on Saadiyat.
"The appointed company will be announced by May 2011 and audit reports will be published on an annual basis," the statement said.
"TDIC respects and upholds the high measures introduced by the UAE Government to protect workers and believes that the UAE Labour Law is comprehensive," it added, stressing it had in place a "robust mechanism" to ensure workers do not pay recruitment fees to work on Saadiyat.
TDIC said it recently expanded this to include that contractors must reimburse workers for any recruitment fees they might have paid.
The Frank Gehry-designed museum is at the heart of Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island development, currently home to more than 10,000 labourers.
The island is also the future home of a $500m branch of the Louvre and to Zayed National Museum, designed by famed architect Norman Foster.
The artists group, which includes Kuwait-born artist Hamra Abbas, Syria’s Khaled Barakeh and Turner Prize-shortlisted Irish artist Willie Doherty, said it would not sell works to the museum or participate in events until an independent monitor is appointment to oversee worker conditions.