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26 Jun 2018

A Human Rights Primer for Business: Understanding Risks to Construction Workers in the Middle East

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Briefing |  2016 Survey (Qatar & UAE) | Arabic Briefing

Employment in the construction industry is characterised by low wages and precarious working conditions, with aspects of the business model contributing to widespread violations of workers’ labour rights. These include: a narrow-margin, least-cost financial structure that drives down wages; many layers of subcontracting that reduce transparency and accountability for abuse; and a project-based “boom and bust” cycle that invites companies to rely on external suppliers of temporary labour.

By some estimates, the Middle East’s construction sector is the largest and fastest-growing in the world. This fast growth has reinforced the sector’s reliance on migrants and refugees to fill gaps in the workforce. Our 2016 survey of construction company operations in Qatar and the UAE indicated that the construction industry lags behind other sectors in understanding and implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and adopting the policies and practices necessary to prevent, mitigate, and remedy abuse.

In anticipation of a second round of surveys in 2018, this time including construction companies operating in Jordan and Lebanon as well as Qatar and the UAE, we have developed this briefing to inform companies of the key human rights risks in these countries and the steps they should take to address abuses in the sector.

In response to these risks, we make specific recommendations to urge construction companies to enhance their human rights performance.