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


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


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

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

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I don’t support Abu Dhabi politically and these working conditions sound deplorable, hope they improve, however it’s worth noting that every time you fill up your gas tank we’re supporting this construction fiscally. Also, for what it’s worth, the U.S. Capitol and White House were built with actual slave labor, as in: $0 per hour and we own you and your offspring forever.

Hurrah for globalization!

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Recommend watching Anthony Bourdain’s visit to Dubai. While the living standards these people have are not what we’re accustomed to here, it is an improvement over what they get at home, and they choose this lifestyle to support their families.

As long as they’re allowed to leave and don’t have their human rights and freedom abused I see no issue.

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.

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You’re right. Seems the experience varies based on the specific employer. A proportion of them are particularly awful.

In recent years, the regulatory environment has improved, but enforcement is sporadic and ineffective

I really do recommend the Bourdain visit. He wouldn’t really have motivation to spin things. It seems there are many laborers who are happy with the situation.

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.


Whatever helps you sleep at night.

You can choose to be ignorant if you’d like.

Valid point. I would recommend you to watch some of his more sensitive episodes, like Israel and Dubai.

If a foreign correspondent dug deep here, it would be filled with stories of human rights abuses, a law-breaking surveillance state, ran by a wealthy elite.

Yes, awful things happen; but that is not the whole story. What is the average person’s experience? Most of us aren’t Edward Snowden or Trayvon Martin. Most of us sit happily by as our world goes to hell.

Bourdain does a good job of capturing the average experience. Police in UAE look the other way as migrant workers run traditional illegal boxing matches. The few people he interviews are very happy to say that they have chosen this life to make it better for their families.

It is be very egotistical to impose our values on other cultures and peoples.

I befriended an Indian Illegal in Hong Kong. He slept on the washing machine. He made that choice to improve his chances and those of his family. Would you deny him that right only when it is state sanctioned?

From my perspective illegals are in a far more tenuous position.

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.


Plus, I doubt Dubai would have let him film unless he promised to be nice. They are pretty eager to build up a reputation as a vacation spot for the elite, as well as a state known for being an attractive tax haven.

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That’s a very valid point.

It helped me to understand that some of my discomfort stems from with the demonization of these places. Given the opportunity we behave the same. Then we attempt to apply values we do not live by to them while feeling good that we are superior.

The way we treat poor people here to be very unequitable compared to those educated and better off. I’m educated, born here, work a single reasonably paying job while our aged immigrant office cleaning lady works three separate part time jobs to make ends meet.

I was surprised to not see UAE as a universal hellhole for terribly abused migrant workers based on the news we here of it here.

I would like to see us focus on improving our standards at home, rather than enjoying a bit of schadenfreude or moral outrage with the practices of other cultures.

I agree with you that there are lots of people in other countries that willingly work in industries we think of as exploitative. The garment industry in Cambodia, for example, has been a huge instrument of both poverty reduction and female independence, even if we think of them as exploitative sweatshops.

On the other hand, those who “focus on improving our standards at home” often resort to protectionist measures which fundamentally hurt the poor in other countries by protecting domestic economic interests (at least if they’re trying to protect domestic standards of living). I know that no one want to see things happen that raise domestic poverty or inequality, but protecting inefficient domestic industries like manufacturing removes the incentive to shift to more efficient domestic industries while also harming low-income foreign jurisdictions that can manufacture more efficiently.

I’ve got a friend who lives part of the year as an ex-pat in Abu Dhabi. Who is an artist, has been involved with the “art world” such as it is there, and who is intimately familiar with the extreme disparity between the rights of the tiny percentage of native citizens and everybody else whom the government benignly tolerates… right up to the moment when they don’t. Anything that smacks of political protest or even making waves is treated as Very Serious Business by those in charge, who have pretty close to unlimited power to make their displeasure felt. If you’re a white Westerner, you may be lucky enough that the iron fist puts on its velvet glove first. If you’re not, well that’s the way the Pecan Sandy crumbles.

I’m amazed and impressed that Molly got this story in the detail she did.

The classic sweatshop argument: it’s better than starvation, it’s not actually slavery, and therefore any level of abuse is acceptable. This is globalization as race to the bottom.

This right here is almost the textbook definition of privilege.

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What do you say to those who would chose to work in a sweatshop (for what may only be a short time before they move on to something better) rather than live in extreme poverty? That it’s really better that they don’t have the choice to work at all?

Would you have the same approach to investment bankers who work 100 hours per week or the working poor in the US who barely scrape by while working two or more jobs at 80+ hours per week?

Yes. This both protectionism and moral outrage cause these problems. They also cause intolerance and prevent us from focusing on real issues we can work to solve - perhaps starting with our working poor.

This may be the first time we don’t have completely conflicting opinions.

It’s very clear to me that our current system isn’t producing the results we want. The way our society functions causes extremely poor behavior and outcomes. Global warming, payday loans, violence, wealth separation, intolerance.

How can we start to shift it?

Yes. It’s their country. If I invite you into my house would you start changing things in ways I don’t want, or taking it over?

We have a democracy yet Snowden is hiding in Russia. Perhaps we should start fixing the problems we are responsible for.