Paris, Thursday, 16 April 2015 – in response to the proceedings we instituted against Vinci Construction Grands Projects and its Qatari subsidiary on 23rd March for forced labour and bonded labour, Vinci is bringing an action for defamation against the Sherpa Organisation, and also personally against certain Sherpa employees. By involving us in these costly proceedings, Vinci is plainly seeking to pressure us into withdrawing our action for lack of resources. Despite the sizeable scale of the sums claimed, we are satisfied nevertheless at the renewed focus of public debate on the human rights violations committed by French multinationals abroad.
On 14 April, Vinci issued a summons against Sherpa as represented by its President, William Bourdon, while also targeting individuals: its Director Laetitia Liebert, and the legal expert, Marie-Laure Guislain, in charge of filing proceedings against Vinci Construction on Friday 26 June at the Paris Regional Court. Sherpa Organisation faces liability to pay 405 000 euros, while Laetitia Liebert and Marie-Laure Guislain are being sued jointly for 203 000 euros, to include the statutory fine, the damages and the requirement to publish the court ruling, all pressed-for by Vinci.
Multinationals frequently resort to costly proceedings of this kind to discourage claimants with less assured finances. We were expecting such a reaction, termed a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, described in French as a “poursuite bâillon” – a gagging lawsuit).
This commonly-used retaliatory device is designed to impede by the threat of proceedings an individual’s or an organisation’s denunciation of misdoings; the success of such a manoeuvre resides not so much in winning a court action as from the process itself, which seeks to intimidate the defendant or exhaust its resources and so reduce it to silence.
We are confident, because we have evidence to substantiate what we advance, and we must not be cowed into shying away from our mission of safeguarding human rights and defending victims of economic crime, regardless of the countries in which multinationals operate.
We welcome this fresh opportunity that Vinci’s legal action provides for us to throw open to public debate the upholding of the fundamental rights of construction-site workers in Qatar. Our action has already borne fruit, since Vinci’s spokespeople have been forced to a reply regarding its practices, and, above all, have reported improvements in working conditions, both since the investigation and to come, at Vinci’s Qatar construction sites. We hope that these declarations will be borne out by tangible and appreciable improvements in living and working conditions at those sites.