The Agence France-Muséums (AFM) has confirmed reports, brought to light recently by the activist and artist group Gulf Labor, that a 28-year-old Pakistani worker died on June 8 at the construction site of the new Louvre museum on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island. Though the circumstances of the worker’s death have not been revealed, Ugo Bertoni, a spokesperson for AFM, told Artinfo’s Mostafa Heddaya that the organization “has immediately questioned TDIC [the Tourism Development and Investment Company, which is overseeing construction on the island] and has been regularly updated about the conditions of this accident and its following developments.” The findings of an investigation by United Arab Emirates (UAE) authorities and local police will be released at the end of July.
The island’s construction sites for the forthcoming Louvre and Guggenheim museum outposts, as well as the completed New York University campus, have been plagued by human rights violations, as reports by Gulf Labor, Human Rights Watch, the New York Times, and others have highlighted. The widespread abuses and lack of enforcement of labor regulations on Saadiyat Island have been well documented, but this is the first confirmed death of a construction worker.
The fatality comes as work on the Jean Nouvel-designed Louvre building, which is already behind schedule, is accelerating in hopes of being complete in time for a grand opening sometime next year. According to the Art Newspaper, the number of workers at the site increased from 5,000 to 7,500 this spring. The scale and complexity of this particular construction project is enormous, with a 7,000-ton, lattice-like dome resting atop gallery buildings totaling 100,000 square feet of exhibition space. In October of last year, Gulf Business reported that 18.5 million man-hours of work had already been done on the building, almost all of them by migrant workers whose living and working conditions are notoriously deplorable.
This may be the first confirmed worker fatality on Saadiyat Island, but the UAE’s neighbor to the west, Qatar, has seen construction site death rates spike in recent years, and many worry that the problem will worsen as the country begins building arenas and other facilities for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. From 2011 to 2013, at least 1,239 migrant workers died in Qatar. Some fear that as many as 900 workers could die annually between now and the kickoff of the 2022 World Cup if working conditions are not improved and existing laws regulating the treatment of migrant workers continue to go unenforced.