Tamara Kamis / Sun Staff Writer

Student protesters from Climate Justice Cornell, Friends of Farmworkers, Cornell Dream Team and Cornell Welcomes Refugees marched from Bailey Hall to Willard Straight Hall where they held a teach-in on global issues ranging from climate change to labor practices in Qatar.

February 28, 2020

Activists Stage Teach-in Over Labor Violations in Qatar, Climate Change

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More than 20 student activists marched and gave speeches on Friday to raise awareness of injustices around the world impacting migrants and refugees and their intersections with climate change.

Protesters from Climate Justice Cornell, Friends of Farmworkers, Cornell Dream Team and Cornell Welcomes Refugees met at Bailey Hall at 12:15 p.m. and marched to Willard Straight Hall where they held a teach-in until 1:30 p.m. They discussed issues ranging from the adverse effects of climate change on farmworkers to poor labor practices in Qatar — the location of Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar.

CJC members Angeliki Cintron ’22 and Mira Kudva-Driskell ’23 spoke about migrant rights issues in which they thought Cornell was indirectly complicit because it allows companies, like Amazon, that have worked with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to recruit on campus.

Amazon has been criticized for providing its web servers to Palantir, a data mining company that has played a role in designing ICE’s software for deportation operations, according to the MIT Technology Review.

Cintron was also concerned about the possibility of a more direct association between Cornell and labor practices in Qatar, a country recently under scrutiny for labor concerns.

According to Human Rights Watch’s 2020 report, there are over 2 million migrant workers in Qatar, and protective reforms intended to protect them from poor labor conditions have not been enforced by the Qatari government.

Cintron expressed concern over the possibility that Cornell’s Weill Medical Campus may be adjacent to or complicit in some of these abuses.  In 2014, the International Trade Union Confederation released a report on Qatar that detailed concerns over forced labor, contract substitution and the withholding of passports in the University City — which houses Cornell’s Qatar campus.

“The fact that Weill is in that city is a pretty big indicator that the same types of exploitation is happening on that campus,” Cintron said. “It is pretty suspicious that in the past and currently, Cornell has refused to do a third party investigation for the labor conditions.”

In 2016, the Student Assembly passed a resolution, urging Cornell to address concerns with labor issues in Qatar and expressed frustration that the administration failed to fully acknowledge the issue at the time. In 2015, the administration declined the suggestion of a third party investigation.

Cintron sees climate change as potentially exacerbating labor concerns with Cornell’s Qatar campus.

“In Qatar, climate change has caused a real rise in temperatures,” Cintron said. “There have already been hundreds of deaths due to heat rise. It is contributing to the already bad labor conditions.”

Other activists spoke about labor issues closer to Cornell’s Ithaca campus, including the challenges faced by upstate New York farmworkers. Nancy Engel ’20, the tutor coordinator for Friends of Farmworkers, expressed worries that these laborers would disproportionately bear the brunt of climate change.

“The people who will be affected most by climate change are the most vulnerable,” Engel said. “Working with farmworkers, you can see how vulnerable they are.”

According to a December report by the Union of Concerned Scientists — a non-profit climate advocacy group — higher temperatures will exacerbate the heat stress risks that farm workers already face.

CJC has staged five demonstrations this semester over climate change and related issues. On Feb. 13, they supported a demonstration protesting a proposed Canadian pipeline — in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en people who did not want a pipeline on their ancestral land — and Cornell’s investment in fossil fuels.

For the remainder of the semester, CJC plans to “disrupt business as usual” and stage other protests to pressure the University to divest from fossil fuels. Since the spring 2020 semester started, three University assemblies have already passed resolutions supporting fossil fuel divestment.

Correction, March 1, 10:42 p.m.: A previous version of this article incorrectly misspelled Angeliki Cintron’s name. It has since been updated.