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What millenial slavery looks like

May 20, 2009

Human Rights Watch just released its report on the U.A.E.’s $27 billion Saadiyat Island, or Island of Happiness Haplessness. Its findings give documentary evidence to what anyone who hasn’t lived under a man-made island has known for years, that workers in the U.A.E. ‘face severe exploitation and abuse, in some cases amounting to forced labor.’

I don’t enjoy posting pictures of these dream-nightmare projects, because really, who cares what they look like as structures? They’re all products of a corporate photoshop of horrors, with designs that look like a construction site threw up on a Club Med island. It would be less nasty of a crime if the glossy aerial shots were merely intended to attract foreign investors. The U.A.E. has been in extreme makeover mode for decades. This latest round copycatting versions of Western artistic and educational institutions, most prominently the Guggenheim, is an extension of the craving for a geographic do-over. Projecting the image (and brand name) of erudite ‘modern’ Anglo/Northern institutions–imagine Paris without the Louvre or New York without NYU or the Guggenheim–onto a region known more for valuing speculative real estate over intellectual achievement is far-fetched illusionism.

It’s no exaggeration: this is the face of transatlantic enslaved labor in the 21st century, in all its ‘modern’ glory. HRW was smart to take the angle of shaming the self-satisfied liberal establishments associated with the island: ‘Among the Guggenheim, New York University, and the French Museum Agency (responsible for the Louvre Abu Dhabi project), only the Agency has taken any steps to seek meaningful contractual guarantees from TDIC to allow independent monitoring of workers’ rights, but even the Agency’s contract lacks guarantees or provisions allowing it to enforce workers’ rights.’

(link from Darryl)

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