Bill Clinton Addresses Controversy in NYU Abu Dhabi Graduation Speech

Sunday, 25 May 2014 11:11 PM

By Greg Richter

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Former President Bill Clinton told graduates at NYU Abu Dhabi Sunday that he has full confidence the school and the Abu Dhabi government will investigate the claims of worker abuse while the new satellite campus was being built.

The graduation ceremony was the first at New York University's newest campus, and Clinton told graduates in his speech that the controversy had "dominated the coverage" during the past week when it should have been about their achievements, The New York Times reported.

But Clinton told the 140 graduates that the reports about abuse suffered by workers who built the campus were "an opportunity to address in concrete, real flesh-and-blood form, one of the representative issues of equality and identity in the 21st century."

Clinton had been pressured to boycott the commencement after a Times article detailed claims of abuses of foreign laborers, including strikebreaking, beatings, low pay, deportation, and confiscation of passports.

NYU apologized for any mistreatment of workers and said it will investigate the matter with the Abu Dhabi government.

Clinton praised his friend John Sexton, president of NYU, and noted that he NYU Abu Dhabi had sought to combat labor abuse in the area by instituting a labor code of conduct.

"NYU sought to change all that here, by coming up with a code of conduct strongly supported by its Abu Dhabi partners and by the government of the UAE," Clinton said.

According to The Times, most of the workers it interviewed said their passports were held by their employers and they had to pay up to a year's salary to get the low-paying construction jobs. Some said they wre imprisoned, beaten and deported for going on strike.

"When this story came out, instead of going into an immediate denial, the university did something which reflects the values you have been taught here," Clinton told the graduates.
"The university, and the government, promised to look into the charges, to do it quickly, to do it honestly and, most importantly, among all the world’s skeptics, to do it transparently and if the charges were well-founded, to take appropriate, remedial action promptly."

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