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Oman: AIIB and construction joint venture respond to concerns over labour safeguards for migrant workers on port project

In May 2017, the Bank Information Center and Business & Human Rights Resource Centre issued a joint submission to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), sharing concerns about the application of AIIB’s Environmental and Social Framework on the  Duqm Port Commercial Terminal and Operational Zone Development Project in the Sultanate of Oman.

The concerns relate to the provisions outlined in the Preliminary Environmental Impact Assessment (PEIA) and other project-related documents regarding the employment and safeguarding of migrant construction workers, information disclosure and consultation, and the project-level grievance mechanism.

Migrant workers in Oman

According to the most recent U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report, of the foreign migrant workers who “migrate to Oman willingly and legally with the expectation of employment in domestic service or in the construction, agricultural, and service sector [...] some are subjected to conditions of forced labor, including excessive work hours, passport confiscation, non-payment of wages, food deprivation, and psychological and sexual abuse.” In a recent case, 800  migrant construction workers were left stranded by their employer and not paid for 5 months.

The existence of this type of labour exploitation indicates the need to go beyond national legislation to protect workers. Gaps include “the sponsorship - based employment scheme that renders expatriate workers vulnerable to exploitative labor;” the lack of “formal procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as migrant workers;” and a lack of efforts to “impose dissuasive penalties on employers who withhold their employees’ passports.”

According to the Duqm Port Project PEIA, 90% of the workers at the Port are foreign workers. The PEIA estimates that the construction of port-related infrastructure under the Project will involve approximately 900 workers.The majority of these workers will consist of laborers, which Is the category of workers most vulnerable to forced labor. However, the PEIA makes no mention of the risk of the use of forced labor in the Project, nor does it identify any actions needed to address this risk.

AIIB's Environmental & Social Policy

AIIB’s environmental and social standards require AIIB to ensure that its clients address “all key potential environmental and social risks and impacts" of projects. Clients are required to ensure that projects are not connected to “any kind of forced or compulsory labor;" to disclose information about projects and meaningfully consult stakeholders; and to create operational-level grievance mechanisms to receive and resolve environmental and social concerns. AIIB also states that it "recognizes the important role of workers and their representatives in the development process."

AIIB’s response

AIIB responded to the letter on the 20th of July, 2017 and to a subsequent rejoinder in August. In parallel, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited the companies awarded the construction contract for Oman’s Duqm Port Project, MSF Engenharia (Portugal) and Serka Taahhut Insaat (Turkey), to share information on the safeguards they have in place for their migrant workforce, based on a survey of construction companies conducted by the Resource Centre last year. The Serka-MSF joint venture in Oman responded to the survey in August.

All the referenced project documents, NGO submissions, and responses from AIIB and the construction company are available below.

Photo credit: Duqm Special Economic Zone Authority

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