February 24, 2016

Cornell University Assembly Resolution Urges Weill Qatar Investigation

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The University Assembly passed a resolution Tuesday requesting specific information on labor practices at Weill Cornell Medicine in Qatar in response to allegations of labor abuses.

The resolution requests that details of any and all previous labor investigations or audits conducted at Qatar be sent to Cornell. It passed with a final vote of 10-0-1.

Recent protests have revealed a substantial interest in labor practices and conditions in Qatar among students, staff and faculty, according to the resolution.

The motivation for the resolution was a report from the International Trade Union Confederation that raised concerns of labor exploitation in Education City in Qatar, possibly even in Cornell facilities, according to Alexander Thomson ’13, executive vice chair of the U.A.

Qatari labor practices enforce the kafala system — a migrant-labor monitoring process which requires all unskilled laborers to have an in-country sponsor but also allows employers to commit massive labor exploitation with minimal legal repercussions, according to the resolution.

The resolution states that Migrant workers — 94 percent of the Qatari labor force — suffer under a system in which employer consent is required to change jobs, leave the country, get a driver’s license, rent a house or open a checking account.

The administration has reassured the student body that Cornell treats all of its employees fairly, but Thomson said we can’t objectively evaluate those claims without more information.

“We have a moral obligation to ensure that our Cornell community members are treated with dignity and respect, no matter where they are in the world,” Thomson said. “When basic human rights are at stake, vague reassurances aren’t enough.”

Gabriel Kaufman ’18, chair of the U.A. codes and judicial committee, also emphasized the importance of this resolution.

“This is important because how we treat our employees reflects our values as a community of students, faculty, and staff,” Kaufman said.

Juliana Batista ’16, president of Student Assembly, called the resolution an “incredibly insightful way” of moving forward with the issue.

“I hope they [Weill Cornell Medicine in Qatar] can provide us this information,” Batista said. “I think as a private institution it’s sometimes difficult to make information like this public, because there is a lot of uncertainty.”

The U.A. also discussed a resolution requesting information on the cost of carbon neutrality, which has been tabled for the assembly’s next meeting.