Construction firms in Qatar: Only a handful make serious efforts to improve conditions for migrant workers
Annabel Short and Farah Ismail, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre
Business & Human Rights Resource Centre contacted 24 construction firms operating in Qatar with questions about their policies and practices on working conditions. A few provided detailed responses, demonstrating that transparency on this important subject is possible. So far, too many have remained silent.
There are currently 1.5 million migrant workers in Qatar. This number is expected to grow to 2.5 million in the coming years, given the construction boom for the 2022 World Cup.
Abuse faced by many of these workers has been widely documented. Workers toil for excessive hours in dangerous conditions, sometimes go unpaid for weeks, and face restrictions when they want to leave the country. Despite repeated calls for change, Amnesty International said recently that “little has changed in law, policy and practice” since the government promised limited reforms 12 months ago.
So what are construction companies doing – or not doing – to improve conditions for these workers?
Today Business & Human Rights Resource Centre launched the first results of its outreach to construction companies with major operations in Qatar. We contacted 24 companies, headquartered in the Middle East, Europe, and Asia, inviting them to respond to questions about their policies and practices on working conditions in Qatar.
Some of the companies are involved in World Cup stadium construction, some in projects closely connected with the World Cup such as metro lines and Lusail City, and others in major infrastructure or retail and residential developments.
So far, four have responded: Aktor (Greece), Bouygues (France), Carillion (UK) and Vinci (France). Two have committed to respond: Besix (Belgium) and OHL (Spain).
Five declined outright to respond, and we are continuing to follow up with the remaining thirteen, encouraging them to respond. Doing so is an opportunity for a company to demonstrate the steps it is taking on working conditions in Qatar, and to improve transparency on this important issue across the industry.
To date, the response demonstrates huge disparities in the extent to which construction firms are taking workers’ rights seriously.
Among the responses, it is encouraging to see:
- Efforts to ensure all workers receive Qatari ID, resident permits and health cards, and exit permits when they ask to leave the country; as well as transparency of recruitment agencies used (see for example the response by Aktor, of Greece)
- Companies raising the issue of employment practices with the Qatari government (see for example the response by Vinci, of France)
- Processes to ensure that workers receive all employment offers and contracts in a language they understand, and that contracts are not changed upon arrival in Qatar (see for example the response by Carillion, of the UK).
Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum some firms see no need to engage publicly on this issue. Those that declined to respond to the questions are: Consolidated Contracting Company (Greece); Habtoor Leighton Group (UAE); Midmac (Qatar); Porr (Austria); and WCT Holdings (Malaysia). We still welcome a response by these and any of the other companies we approached at any time.
We hope that this platform inspires further rapid improvements by construction companies operating in Qatar – across the whole industry.
For any comments, recommendations or further company responses please contact:
Annabel Short, Program Director, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre: short (at) business-humanrights.org
Farah Ismail, Middle East Researcher & Representative, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre: ismail (at) business-humanrights.org
Companies we have not yet heard from are below. We will continue to follow up with them, and welcome a response at any time.
Al-Jaber (United Arab Emirates)
Arabtec (United Arab Emirates)
Bin Omran Trading and Contracting (Qatar)
China Harbour Engineering Company (subsidiary of CCCC) (China)
Consortium Joannou & Paraskevaides Ltd / J&P-AVAX SA (Greece / Guernsey)
Daewoo E&C (South Korea)
Hyundai (South Korea)
Larsen & Toubro (India)
Salini Impregilo (Italy)
Yapi Merkezi Insaat (Turkey)
Guidance on human rights for construction companies operating in Qatar:
- Amnesty International: “The Dark Side of Migration – Spotlight on Qatar’s Construction Sector Ahead of the World Cup“, Amnesty International: see “Recommendations to companies” pages 128 - 129
- Human Rights Watch: “Building a Better World Cup – Protecting Migrant Workers in Qatar Ahead of FIFA 2022”, Human Rights Watch: see “Recommendations to construction, labor-supply and other companies working in Qatar, including companies awarded or that win bids to build World Cup-related projects or infrastructure” pages 92-93
- Building and Wood Workers International: "Decent Work for Migrant Workers in Qatar - Role of Construction Companies" (11 recommendations). See also BWI's report "Fair Play for all teams" - The Building and Woodworker’s Internationals’ sports campaign prior to World Cups, 2018 in Russia and 2022 in Qatar.