The University’s longstanding, disturbing refusal to investigate labor conditions at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar has fallen out of the discussion as of late. It is past time to bring the discussion back to light. Some context for the uninitiated. Human rights groups charge that Qatar’s foreign labor sponsorship system enables exploitation bordering on slavery. Migrant laborers come to the Gulf nation seeking work, but are quickly funneled into involuntary servitude.
Students from the Cornell Organization for Labor Action are frustrated by the administration’s lack of action, after President Elizabeth Garrett acknowledged through a letter on Nov. 9, but did not approve, a Student Assembly resolution that calls for an investigation of labor practices at Weill Cornell Medicine in Qatar. Resolution 16 —”Addressing Labor Issues in Qatar” — was sponsored by COLA and adopted by the S.A. in a 24-1-0 vote on Oct. 16. The resolution, which was then conveyed to Garrett on Oct.
Approximately 50 students gathered for Cornell Organization for Labor Action’s teach-in in Warren Hall Wednesday, which aimed to raise awareness about alleged human rights violations at Weill Cornell Medicine in Education City, Qatar. Following the presentation, the students marched to President Elizabeth Garrett’s office to deliver a letter demanding a third-party investigation of Cornell’s Qatar campus. Wednesday afternoon’s teach-in and letter drop are the latest actions in COLA’s Weill Workers Suffer campaign, which demands that the University conducts an independent investigation of the labor practices at Cornell’s Qatar campus and that it upholds its mission of fair labor practices regardless of location. COLA has had difficulties investigating the workers’ conditions since any contact with human rights organizations would result in the workers’ deportations, according to COLA member Hadiyah Chowdhury ’18. However, a report about labor practices on Qatari satellite campuses that was sent to COLA from the International Trade Union Confederation in January 2015 has further motivated their campaign, she added.
Activists from different student groups publicly challenged President Elizabeth Garrett to respond to instances of intimidation from University police toward protesters as well as alleged labor rights abuses at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar during the inauguration events on Friday. Beginning at 9:10 a.m., before Garrett’s inauguration ceremony, student activists gathered on Ho Plaza and on the Arts Quad to distribute an open letter airing grievances regarding campus police actions against student protesters. The letter, addressed to Garrett and signed by the Cornell Independent Students’ Union, Cornell Graduate Students United, the Cornell Progressive and Students for Justice in Palestine, was distributed to visiting alumni, students and faculty members as they entered the seating area in the Arts Quad. “Last semester the Cornell Police used threats of jail time and fabricated charges to intimidate students who voiced dissenting speech,” the letter reads. “Police, wearing armor and carrying guns, are a common sight at peaceful political demonstrations on the Cornell campus.”
According to Alec Desbordes ’17, a member of CISU, the letter was written in response to a campus police investigation of student protester Daniel Marshall ’15 in April, in which the police investigator threatened criminal charges against Marshall if he did not cooperate by answering the investigator’s questions.