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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Cornell’s campus in Qatar pressed for details on labor practices



Concerned about living and working conditions of blue-collar workers in Qatar, community members of Cornell University called on its Doha-based campus to provide sweeping information about its contractors.

According to the Cornell Daily Sun, the Cornell University Assembly – which represents students, faculty and staff at the New York State-based school – passed a resolution earlier this week about the issue.

It asked Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar (WCMC-Q) for a list of all the names and positions of third-party contractors employed at WCMC-Q, details on the process used to hire them, specific worker protections stipulated in WCMC-Q’s contracts, among other information.

WCMC-Q said it had no comment on the resolution when contacted by Doha News.

The resolution was sparked by allegations made by the International Trade Union Confederation in 2014 that “modern-day slavery” exists in Education City.

The advocacy organization, which has been a long-standing critic of Qatar, said:

“Administrative staff, maintenance workers, gardeners and cleaners face crushing recruitment fees, the substitution of their contracts for ones with lower wages and poor working and living conditions and the confiscation of their passports.”

Education City is operated by Qatar Foundation (QF), which introduced a workers’ charter in 2013 that sets minimum standards for the recruitment, accommodation and payment of expats that go above and beyond Qatar’s laws.

Human rights advocates have welcomed QF’s policies, as well as similar measures introduced by local World Cup organizers, but said that their effectiveness depends on how strictly such provisions are enforced.

Qatar Foundation campus
Qatar Foundation campus

In response to demands for an independent investigation, Cornell president Elizabeth Garrett wrote to a campus organization last year that she has not found any abuses of labor at WCMC-Q, according to the Cornell Daily Sun.

However, this week’s resolution states that Garrett’s statements “lacked sufficient detail for the University Assembly to objectively evaluate the issue.”


Other schools in Education City – including Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q), which signed a new 10-year contract with QF earlier this month – have faced similar questions.

Northwestern University in Qatar
Northwestern University in Qatar

Last year, Stephen Eisenman – who was president of Northwestern’s faculty senate at the time – traveled to Qatar on a three-day visit to investigate academic freedom at NU-Q, among other issues.

In a six-page report published after his visit, the art history professor said “it is not yet clear” if QF’s guidelines have made a significant impact on the living and working conditions of expats.

Regardless of what happens in Education City, Eisenman’s report questioned whether it was appropriate for Northwestern to be operating in Qatar at all:

“The ethics of establishing a campus in an authoritarian country are murky, especially when it inhibits free expression, and counts among its allies several oppressive regimes or groups,” he wrote.

NU-Q did not respond to an interview request earlier this month to discuss Eisenman’s report.

However, NU-Q dean and CEO Everette Dennis told the New York Times in 2013 that the university was helping to change Qatar:

“When you are a guest in someone else’s country, what is your role?” he was quoted as saying. “We see ourselves as part of Qatar’s effort to transform itself from a society based on extractive industry to a knowledge-based economy. But there is not a tradition of freedom of the press in the Gulf — or in the Arab world generally.”


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