Profiles of brutalized laborers building Abu Dhabi's Louvre and Guggenheim

Molly Crabapple writes, "For My latest piece for Vice, I spoke with the men paid $200/month to build the Louvre and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi."

Ibrahim lives in one of Abu Dhabi’s labor camps, in a low-rise building set among row after row of identical blocks. Like most camps, it is hidden deep in the desert, far from central Abu Dhabi. Forty thousand men can live in a single camp. They are Nepali, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian—and work for a variety of companies. Often, since they don’t speak English, they won’t know what project they’re building

Corporate buses ferry workers to job sites. Even these are no respite from the heat. Despite laws to the contrary, many buses have no air conditioning. Commutes last up to two hours, and the temperatures often reach more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Ibrahim showed me a cell-phone video of the windowless dorm he shares with ten men. Outside, he has only a mosque, a hypermarket, and the sun.

On his one day off, Ibrahim told me, he would like to stroll Abu Dhabi’s corniche. But there’s no public transit. He is a virtual prisoner in the workers’ city.

Besides a few cashiers, the camps contain no women—just as the UAE, flush with laborers, is two-thirds male. Men save up for occasional visits to Ethiopian prostitutes. They too are migrants, often former maids who ran away from abusive employers. Because of their dark skin, Ethiopian prostitutes aren’t favored by the country’s Emirati elite and have to charge prices that even laborers can afford.

Slaves of Happiness Island (Thanks, Molly!)

Notable Replies

  1. I wonder what that is in comparison to the original Louvre workers' salary.

  2. Thank you, these are almost as beautiful as Molly's great big throbbing heart.

    Edit: Oops, meant to reply to OP, not to Tribune.

  3. They have their passports taken away by their "employers". Domestic workers, both in Dubai and Saudi Arabia and the other Emirates, have it worse, especially women, because they are often physically abused as well and they can't go out on the streets uncovered anyway.

    It's fucking deplorable. And these are our allies.

  4. bwv812 says:

    An untrained television personality in the UAE to make a food show doesn't really have the right motivation to do any digging and get things right, either.

    And while working in Dubai may be a choice that many of them would make willingly in full knowledge of the conditions, that's really no justification unless you think it would also justify the USA/your country from legally offering these same working conditions to those who would accept them.

  5. bwv812 says:

    Yes, but treating foreign workers the same way you treat domestic workers isn't imposing your values on others: it's imposing your own values on your own employers, regardless of the origin of those they are hiring. That's a rationale that works in the West, where equality is valued, at least. You can argue that this value of equality and equal treatment of persons within one's jurisdiction doesn't apply in UAE, and that they have different values. But that's why the Louvre and the Guggenheim are being used as examples: these are Western institutions that embrace Western values like equality, and that's why their complicity in these kinds of abuses (as seen through Western values) is objectionable in ways that it might not be if these projects were purely UAE driven.

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