April 14, 2016

Kotlikoff Responds to University Assembly Resolution on Labor Practices at Weill Medical Qatar

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Updated with a clarification from Acting President Michael Kotlikoff

Provost and Acting-President Michael Kotlikoff released information addressing allegations of labor abuses at Weill Cornell Medicine in Qatar Wednesday, over a month after the University Assembly passed a resolution requesting information on Qatari labor practices.

In his response to the U.A.’s petition requesting answers, Kotlikoff assured students that the administration is doing what it can to prevent any labor abuse on Weill’s campus, citing Cornell’s reputation as a “progressive employer.”

“I can provide you with assurance that Cornell is vigilant about preventing any migrant worker abuse from occurring at WCM-Q,” Kotlikoff said. “More broadly, we take measures to ensure that all WCM-Q personnel are treated respectfully, in accordance with Cornell’s values, and have working conditions that reflect the University’s high standards as a progressive employer.”

Kotlikoff’s response detailed worker protections granted people on campus employed by third party contractors — who were not named due to “business confidentiality concerns.” These protections include provisions in contracts that provide housing, salary and other benefits required by Qatari law.

Kotlikoff said in his response that workers have been questioned so that administrators could assure that they were paid in a timely manner. He added that the WCM-Q manager has an open-door policy where any worker can come in to confidentially report labor abuses. However, no investigations have taken place due to the lack of labor abuse allegations at this time, Kotlikoff said.

In addition to the open door policy, Kotlikoff’s response also noted that the Cornell administration maintains “regular contact with both the vendors and the contracted staff to ensure adherence with terms of contracts.”

Kotlikoff originally said that the U.A. should have reached out to its counterpart campus governance group in Qatar and should do so “for future matters that the U.A. may be considering that have a direct bearing on these other Cornell campuses.”

“In formulating the resolution, I believe it would have been helpful if the U.A. had first conferred with counterpart campus governance groups at the WMC campus and at its branch campus in Qatar,” Kotlikoff said.

The administration later clarified that this recommendation was made in error, as the acting president was previously unaware that the U.A. had been in contact with the Medical Student Executive Council-Qatar during the resolution’s formulation which serves as the representative group at WMC-Q.

Christopher Hanna ’18, co-facilitator at Amnesty International at Cornell, said the information provided by Kotlikoff does not rule out the possibility that labor abuses exist on the campus in Qatar.

“[Kotlikoff] has still refused to initiate a third party investigation into labor practices at WCM-Q in accordance with the demands of shared governance and the Coalition Against Gulf Exploitation,” Hanna said.

Hanna added that although Kotlikoff said benefits are provided in accordance with Qatari law, the law does not actually protect workers’ rights.

“I anticipate further action on this issue, both from the folks at the Cornell Organization for Labor Action who launched this campaign and the Cornell community at large,” Hanna said. “I think that concerned members of the Cornell community are tired of hearing that concrete action on human rights at the WCM-Q campus is far-fetched. We expect more from our University.”