[Motion passed in December 2018] UoB Dubai campus, human rights and freedom in UAE, and complicity with war and famine in Yemen

UoB Dubai Campus, Human Rights And Freedom In UAE, And Complicity With War And Famine In Yemen

Motion on UNISON’s concerns over the UoB Dubai campus, human rights and freedom in UAE, and complicity with war and famine in Yemen

The University management continually state that they respect the moral conscience of University of Birmingham staff who do not wish to work in or for the Dubai campus. This position in itself is a tacit recognition that there are ethical reasons to refuse to be involved in promoting the Dubai campus.

University of Birmingham UNISON members passed a motion condemning the University of Birmingham management’s decision to set up the Dubai campus because of its poor human rights record and refusal to recognise organisations such as trade unions. We have asked for reassurances that the university will acknowledge the rights of all students and staff on the Dubai campus but received only meaningless platitudes. We need meaningful guarantees. The University Executive Board members should recognise that staff are worried when they read about cases such as that of Matthew Hedges, the Durham University researcher who has been in the national press and held in a prison in Abu Dhabi after an unfair trial. UEB’s response to Matthew Hedges’ case has been to issue a ‘University Briefing’!

Their management strategy appears to be to let the Foreign and Commonwealth Office take charge and ‘hope [for] a speedy resolution’ if any difficult situation arises, and the fact that Matthew has been ‘pardoned’ does not erase our concerns. It is simply not good enough to gamble with employees’ rights, by risking them being subject to political negotiations between the UK Government and an unelected leader of a country with such a poor human rights record. Such ‘Old-Boy’ cronyism has no place in a meritocratic progressive institute of learning.

This branch notes:

  1. The life sentence recently handed down to Durham PhD student Matthew Hedges by a court in UAE on charges of spying.
  2. That the University of Birmingham management refused to lobby the UAE for Matthew Hedges’ release.
  3. That LGBTQ people’s rights are persistently violated in the UAE; trade unions are illegal; academic freedom and the freedom to express one’s gender identity, sexuality, and political beliefs are curtailed in the UAE; that migrant workers in the UAE are exploited and any further developments of a campus in Dubai would rest on the further exploitation of these workers.
  4. That Birmingham UCU and other UCU branches across the UK have passed motions to boycott the Dubai campus – that is, not to carry out voluntary duties for the Dubai campus due to the issues mentioned above.
  5. The UAE and Saudi Arabia play a central role in the military intervention and blockade of Yemen which has led to the deaths of an estimated 85,000 children from hunger since 2015 according to Save the Children[1].
  6. That the University of Birmingham management did not consult with the trade unions on any aspects of the Dubai campus, and ignored, in meetings and emails, our calls to explain how they will defend the university’s professed values on protections for LGBTQ+ students and staff, trade union rights, representing members in Dubai, the right to free speech and academic freedom.
  7. That the University of Birmingham management continue to keep everyone in the dark about their dealings with the Dubai campus; for instance, they have not provided the trade unions on campus with University Council papers and minutes that include details of the planning of the campus.
  8. That the branch passed a motion earlier in the year, condemning the university for opening a campus in Dubai, and asking for answers and reassurances to a variety of matters that are of concern to our members. The motion can be found here: https://uobunison.org.uk/human-rights-and-international-solidarity-motion

This branch believes:

  1. That UK Higher Education institutions have a moral responsibility to ensure that they are not complicit in the war and famine currently devastating Yemen.
  2. By working with the UAE, the UEB are endorsing and perpetuating conditions that constitute exploitation, human rights violations and modern-day slavery working conditions.
  3. The University needs to take whatever action is necessary to distance itself immediately, publicly and unmistakeably from Dubai’s atrocious record on LGBT rights, on trade union rights and on migrant rights, and to ensure that staff are fully and frankly informed, in writing and up front, about the dangers of working in an environment in which their basic human rights will not be respected, and which refuses these rights to everyone, including our own students in Dubai.

This branch resolves:

  1. To express our solidarity with the efforts made by UCU branches across the country to boycott the Dubai campus, and to support and work closely with UCU on this matter.
  2. To endorse the Open Letter on Academic Freedoms, LGBTQ rights and Workers’ Rights in UAE, signed by dozens of academic staff from across the UK https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScG1cFquJxr_kCfRt-8EGYHuzP_NHAF5mYMRUriR8q9C7Jqyg/viewform
  3. That UNISON will continue to put pressure on the University management to enter into meaningful negotiation with all the unions on campus.
  4. To encourage all staff to raise their concerns over the Dubai campus with their colleagues and the branch committee, so as to create an environment in which everyone feels confident to openly express their views.
  5. To submit a motion to the UNISON HE Conference (to take place in January 2019), calling on UNISON nationally to take a public stance against partnerships between UK institutions and countries with a record of human rights abuse, to take all measures possible to protect workers’ rights, and to support individual branches with advice and training.
  6. To call on the University of Birmingham to exclude BAE Systems[2], Rolls Royce[3] and other companies whose products are being used by the Saudi-led coalition in its war on Yemen from investment and research partnerships.
  7. That the University management fully audit the working practices of all staff and external contractors in Dubai and make this information publicly available.
  8. That the plans for expanding the campus and recruiting thousands of students are suspended with immediate effect until the university can guarantee full rights for every migrant worker contracted to work on the Dubai campus, student and member of staff.
  9. Staff who have been working on the University of Birmingham’s Dubai campus remotely should be allowed to withdraw their participation with the Dubai project at any time, at their own discretion, if a case such as that of Matthew Hedges’ has caused them to reconsider their role.

[1] ‘Children Die as Foreign Powers Circle Over Yemen’s Shattered Land’ https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/03/children-die-as-foreign-powers-circle-over-yemen-shattered-land

[2] ‘University of Birmingham signs strategic agreement with BAE’ https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/partners/news/items/uob-signs-strategic-agreement-with-bae.aspx

[3] ‘Advanced Manufacturing Research facility officially opened by Business Minister’  https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/news/latest/2017/07/official-opening-of-htrc.aspx