Vinci to face charges over working conditions on Qatar construction sites

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
posted by Will Green
8 November 2022

Construction firm Vinci has confirmed it has been summoned by a French judge to “answer charges” over treatment of workers on construction sites in Qatar.

The charges relate to complaints first lodged in 2015 by NGO Sherpa against Vinci Construction Grands Projets alleging servitude and forced labour among migrant workers on infrastructure projects in Qatar.

Sherpa has said it visited Qatar in 2014, after the country was awarded the World Cup in 2010, and found instances including workers operating in extreme heat without enough water or shade, having their passports withheld, and having to pay money to recruitment agencies.

Vinci denied any of the projects awarded to its subsidiary Qatari Diar Vinci Construction (QDVC), which is 49% owned by Vinci Construction Grand Projets, had any connection to the World Cup, but were instead mainly related to transport infrastructure.

“Since 2015, Vinci has vigorously denied the allegations made against it concerning its projects in Qatar conducted by the company QDVC, in which Vinci Construction Grands Projets has a 49% stake,” said the company.

“Vinci considers it extremely regrettable that despite the proceedings having commenced seven years ago, its subsidiary should face charges just before the start of the football World Cup in Qatar. This highly-charged period of media attention might be rather unfavourable in terms of a dispassionate consideration of the facts. However, Vinci will continue to cooperate with the courts, with the objective to show that the allegations made against the group are unfair.”

Sherpa told the AFP news agency: “If Vinci were to be charged, it would confirm that multinationals face increasing difficulties in hiding behind their supply chains, the idea that it’s ‘too complicated’ to act.”

Qatar has come in for criticism over the treatment of migrant workers on infrastructure for the World Cup, which begins on 20 November.

NGO Human Rights Watch said in a blog on Monday (7 November): “Over the past 12 years, millions of migrant workers have toiled to make the 2022 World Cup possible, building key infrastructure, including the stadiums in Qatar. 

“However, these workers have always been at the margins, and the authorities have been less than responsive to their abusive work conditions.”

Former Fifa president Sepp Blatter told Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger it was a “mistake” to award Qatar the World Cup and social considerations and human rights were made part of the criteria used to select host countries following concerns about the treatment of migrant workers building stadiums in Qatar.

In 2017 Qatar pledged a series of labour reforms including changes to the kafala labour system that ties workers to a single employer. Reforms included a minimum wage, the monitoring of labour practices, the creation of workers’ committees with elected representatives, and measures to allow migrants to leave the country without their employer’s permission.

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