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29 Apr 2020

Saudi Arabia: Groups call on project management consultancies to divest from NEOM giga construction project following land activist shooting by govt.


In April 2020, activist Abdul-Rahim al-Howeiti was killed by Saudi security forces when protesting his community's forced expulsion from their land in Al- Khuraybah to make way for the development of giga-project NEOM. Saudi Arabia's NEOM gigaproject is an estimated $500bn construction project to create a futuristic city encompassing towns and cities, ports, tourist destinations and entertainment centres. It aims to be 33 times the size of New York City.

Al-Howeiti was a member of the minority Howeitat tribe and had long-protested the removal of his community as "state terrorism". He documented his resistance and the presence of security forces in videos posted on social media. In one of the last videos that he posted, al-Howeiti alleged that the project had already started and community members already being removed.

Shortly after, Saudi authorities arrested eight members of his family and community leaders, and have acknowledged that they killed al-Howeiti. They allege that he had refused to surrender to security and had responded to them with open fire. Reports have since emerged that al-Howeiti's body, along with those of at least 90 other activists, has been withheld from the victims' families. As of 23 April, his body was returned. A more comprehensive timeline of events detailing the interactions between the development and the local community from 2017 can be found in the Al Qst article below.

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre approached the NEOM Co. to invite them to respond to the allegations, including that locals had expressed opposition to the project and that there had been a lack of clear consultation in the development process. They did not respond.

We also approached Boston Consulting Group, Mckinsey & Company and Oliver Wyman who are engaged as project consultants for the project, to invite them to respond to the killing. BCG's response can be read in full below. Mckinsey & Company and Oliver Wyman did not respond initially.

In June 2020, NGO Al Qst published an open letter signed by a coalition of 12 organisations calling on the three project management consultancies to reflect publicly on their legal and moral responsibilities under the UN Guiding Principles, to engage in consultation with local communities and affected stakeholders and to reassess their involvement in the NEOM project in light of the death of Abdul-Rahim.

BCG did not provide further response to the letter. Mckinsey & Company did provide a statement in response which can be read in full below; it neither addresses the content of the letter and its recommendations, nor the original allegations with which they were approached by the Resource Centre.  Oliver Wyman did not respond to raised allegations. 



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Oliver Wyman

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