Written by 17 h 06 min Labor rights and Modern slavery, Strategic litigation

FIFA World cup 2022 : modern slavery in Qatar

Country: Qatar

Company targeted: Vinci

An overview of the facts and proceedings… 

In recent years, Qatar has undertaken a vast program of modernization of its infrastructures and it is expected that the pace will accelerate and expenditure will multiply as we approach the soccer World Cup. It is in this context that the Vinci company has been attributed major projects amounting to billions of euros, including the construction
of the Metro. Vinci, and more specifically Vinci Construction Grands Projects (VCGP) employs 6000 migrants on its construction sites through its Qatar subsidiary (Qatari Diar Vinci Construction (QDVC)) and numerous subcontractors.

VINCI Construction Grands projects, one of the world leaders in civil engineering, is established throughout
the world. In 2014, the company’s turnover reached 1,107 billions of euros and it employed nearly 7000

During our investigation in Qatar in November 2014, our interviews with workers on Vinci construction sites denounced working and housing conditions that are incompatible with human dignity: a 66-hour working week, particularly cramped and poorlyequipped accommodation with several persons per room, confiscation of passports and threats of dismissal or return to their country of origin in the event of a protest, all in violation of Qatari law.
Furthermore, a lack of sufficient equipment to protect against the risks of construction sites and the heat are alleged to cause an abnormally high number of deaths among workers on the sites.

Legal basis … 

As a result of months of investigation and our mission to Qatar in November 2014, Sherpa decided to file a complaint against Vinci for forced labor and bounded labor, failure to provide medical response and unintentional injuries, as well as for concealment of profits arising from violations, before the Public Prosecutor of Nanterre, the headquarters of Vinci Construction.

This is the first time that a multinational has been sued on the basis of criminal offenses of «forced labor» and «bounded labor». This complaint is thus a historic legal step forward towards the establishment of the parent company-subsidiary link that is extremely difficult to prove for the victims.

What Sherpa’s work has enabled … 

Sherpa actively campaigns for the reinforcement of French legislation on the liability of parent companies for their subsidiaries and subcontractors abroad. Sherpa’s action aims to shed light on all the conditions of social responsibility, and to show that a law on the duty of care remains more necessary than ever.
This case has also incidentally relaunched the debate on the techniques of SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Prosecution) lawsuits used by multinationals. In fact, subsequent to the filing of Sherpa’s complaint, Vinci immediately initiated proceedings for defamation and for the infringement of the presumption of innocence by claiming damages for several hundreds of thousands of euros against several employees (physical persons) of the

The complaint filed by Sherpa against Vinci benefited from unprecedented visibility in both French and international media and thus helped to generate a high level of public awareness over the exploitation of migrants in the Gulf countries, and especially on the possibility of action against such practices. Thus, during the vote on the duty of care bill on March 31, 2015, this case was mentioned in the debate and was a decisive factor for the adoption of the
principle of the liability of parent companies by the National Assembly, which could prevent many future violations of human rights by multinationals.

The positive impact of the complaint was immediate for certain victims. Thanks to the debate that this complaint stimulated in the media, Vinci was led to improve the working conditions for a part of the workers on the site: according to witnesses the daily working hours have decreased from 11 hours to 10 hours per day, some workers directly employed by QDVC have acquired shaded shelter for their breaks, have been given better housing, and have
been able to recover their passports. In addition, Vinci has agreed to enter into negotiations with the Building and Wood Workers’ International, even though negotiations had been blocked for months.

Finally, and above all, a rare consequence and one that bears hope for the future, the International Labor organization (ILO) has, following our complaint and the reports of other organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, launched a mission of inquiry to Qatar on the working conditions of migrants.


Defamation lawsuit against Sherpa by Vinci

On April 14th 2015, following Sherpa’s lawsuit against Vinci for forced labour in Qatar, the company filed a defamation lawsuit against Sherpa, the Director and the head of the litigation department. Targeting individuals in addition to organisations, by claiming hundreds of thousands of euros in damages, also seems to be a new strategy with the aim of increasing the intimidating effect of this type of lawsuit. The world leader in the building and civil engineering industry has also brought an action before the interlocutory judge for infringement of the presumption of innocence, in addition to the defamation lawsuits already filed. Dismissed by the Paris Regional Court, Vinci then initiated civil proceedings on the same basis, and the Paris Regional Court ruled that the presumption of innocence had not been infringed.

Following Vinci’s appeal on June 28th 2017, the Paris Court of Appeal also finally dismissed its action for infringement of the presumption of innocence, and ordered Vinci to pay Sherpa 3,000 euros in addition to the appeal costs. Regarding the defamation lawsuit, the court issued a stay of proceedings pending a final decision on the merits of our lawsuit.


Chronology of proceedings… 

November 2014 – Sherpa traveled to Doha to investigate, within a delegation of the Building and Wood Workers’ International.

March 24, 2015 – A complaint was filed with the Public Prosecutor of Nanterre.

April 7, 2015 – Opening of a preliminary inquiry.

April 13, 2015 – Suit for defamation filed by Vinci.

April 23, 2015 – An application for a preliminary injunction against William Bourdon and Laëtitia Liebert for infringement of the presumption of innocence as a result of the publication of an interview in the Liberation newspaper.

May 13, 2015 – Proceedings by Vinci on the infringement of the presumption of innocence

July 22, 2015 – After the rejection of jurisdiction by the judge, Vinci filed for an examination on the merits

June 28th 2017 – the Paris Court of Appeal dismissed the company’s claim, considering its action unfounded.

2017 – After receiving the preliminary investigation report in July, we forwarded our in-depth analysis of its shortcomings and requested further investigations

January 11, 2018 – Closing of the case by the Prosecutor of Nanterre

September, 2018 – On site investigation in India by Sherpa to meet with former workers of QDVC

September 22, 2018 – Sherpa together with a former worker file a complaint with a claim for indemnification in front of an investigating judge

November 25, 2018 – Sherpa, the Comité contre l’Esclavage Moderne together with 6 former workers file a new complaint in front of the Prosecutor of Nanterre

Last modified: 17 December 2019