Paris, 24th March 2015 – Sherpa files a complaint against Vinci Construction Grands Projects (VCGP) and the French managers of its Qatari branch (QDVC) over violations concerning forced labour, servitude and receiving stolen goods in connection with migrants employed on their building sites in Qatar. Investigations carried out on site conclude that these companies are employing various threats to compel a vulnerable population to live and work in undignified conditions for a derisory remuneration.
The violation of the fundamental rights of migrant workers building facilities for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar – the richest country in the world – have been denounced in numerous reports by different organisations. The French group VINCI, represented by its QDVC branch, has won contracts worth several millions of euros in connection with the event and employs thousands of workers onsite both directly and via numerous subcontractors incorporated in Qatar.
After several months of investigation and having encountered numerous obstacles, Sherpa’s advocates and lawyers, supported and invited by the National Federation of Construction, Wood and Furnishings Workers CGT (FNSCBA CGT) to a delegation organised in Doha by the Building and Woodworkers International, have managed to pull together overwhelming evidence of the working conditions at QDVC’s building sites, allowing the organisation to file a complaint on 23rd March 2015.
Marie-Laure Guislain, Sherpa’s head of litigation for the Globalisation and Human Rights programme, underlines these difficulties: “The enormous pressure put on employees made our task very difficult; the migrants are terrorised by the threat of reprisals that they could suffer. Nevertheless, we have been able to collect conclusive evidence on the spot of undignified working and living conditions and remuneration that bears no relation to the work performed, which is carried under duress and threats.”
Indeed, the evidence testifies to inhuman and dangerous working conditions violating international and even local law, which explains the frequent accidents and deaths on the building sites. Worse still, passports are confiscated by the company and workers are threatened if they claim their right to better working and living conditions or if they want to resign or change employer. They are also compelled to accept undignified working conditions that bear no relation to the remuneration they receive. These conditions are far from those boasted by VCGP in its communications and code of ethics and far from the standards imposed by Qatari and international documents.
This new social drama highlights, as did Rana Plaza, the urgent need to adopt a law on the duty of vigilance by multinationals concerning infringements of human rights by their branches or subcontractors in the context of their overseas activities. Indeed, if the legal grounds employed in these charges must allow questioning of the parent company in this case, they concern only violations relating to forced labour and therefore only a tiny proportion of the harm caused to workers or communities that are victims of economic crimes. Furthermore, it is not possible to prevent such a disaster by legal action: the aim of a general law on the duty of vigilance is to prevent harm before it occurs and it is too late.
A text aimed precisely at preventing the most serious and frequently inflicted harm in the spheres of health, environment and fundamental liberties will be voted on in the National Assembly on 30th March. While the efforts of the members of parliament promoting this bill are to be welcomed, pressure from employers’ organisations must not be allowed to water it down to an improved reporting obligation affecting only a small number of companies. If the government is to honour its promises and international commitments while achieving its goal of enhancing the accountability of multinationals to avoid deaths in Qatar, as in Bangladesh, it is imperative that the text be amended during the vote.
Laetitia Liebert, Director of Sherpa, hopes “that this action will force Vinci to scrupulously respect the rights of migrant workers in the years to come and will be an example for the building and civil engineering sector as a whole. The work will continue and even intensify as the World Cup approaches. Yet the various questions raised by the trade unions or human rights organisations seem insufficient to achieve change. It is therefore crucial to prevent future violations of the fundamental rights of workers through this legal action.”
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