Webuild has accepted the invitation received by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre to provide its position on the article entitled “Counter-reporting sustainability from the bottom up: the case of the construction company WeBuild and dam-related conflicts", published in the Journal of Business Ethics on 3 December 2021.
The article contains an analysis of alleged controversies related to 38 hydropower projects attributed to Webuild. According to the authors, the information provided by the Company through its CSR reports mismatch with the information they collected from NGOs, environmental justice organizations, journalists, and other similar sources.
Webuild expresses its perplexity over the article, fully challenging its content, methodology and results.
First, the article compares alleged controversies related to dams built over the 1956-2020 period with the company CSR reporting related to the 2013-2019 period. Webuild’s CSR reporting is prepared according to international standards such as the GRI Sustainability Standards, which require to disclose information limited to each reporting year. It is unclear which information the authors expected to find in such recent reports with regards to projects carried out decades ago.
Second, the authors have compared case-specific information on the selected hydropower projects with the company CSR reporting that – according to the above-mentioned standards – require organizations to report on their aggregated economic, environmental and social dimensions. Moreover, while the information included in the company CSR reporting is subject to third-party assurance, those collected from NGOs, journalists and other sources on the alleged controversies appear to be self-referential and unchecked.
Third, the authors have put together what they call “unsustainability claims tied to the dams” without distinguishing those specifically related to the construction phase from those related to other stages in which Webuild was not involved at all, such as pre-bid technical-economic feasibility studies and design, or operational stages.
With such an approach, it appears quite obvious to find a mismatch of narratives!
The authors seem to be perfectly aware of all the above, as in their conclusions concede that their “hybrid and novel methodology came with limitations. First, the large number of cases does not allow for an in-depth case study approach. Second, for the same reason it would not be feasible to check the legal responsibility of the company for all the claims and concerns that arose around the projects. The fact that the company under scrutiny here is a construction company rather than a commissioning body or a plant operator adds complexity to this endeavor, as their formal responsibility is supposedly limited to the building works”.
It is worthwhile mentioning that, among the various methods used for the research, the authors claim to have adopted a computer software to match unstructured qualitative data like interviews, journal articles, social media, and web content. It is unclear whether a human check was carried out on the results.
According to a sample analysis carried out by Webuild, it seems it is not the case.
For example, with reference to the Kariba dam – a project completed in 1959 on the Zambezi River between Zambia and Zimbabwe – the article reports the following quote: “Flooding was said to have affected 635,000 people, 180,000 of whom were living in emergency shelters”.
By analyzing the quote’s source, it appears clear that the alleged flood was related to Cahora Bassa dam, not the Kariba dam. Besides the fact that Webuild was not involved at all in the construction of Cahora Bassa
dam (built between 1969 and 1974), it is worthwhile also mentioning that such flood occurred in March 2020 and had no connections with the construction of the dam.
This is just an example of how the authors have charged Webuild with an alleged impact without any grounds.
Webuild believes the article reports a clear misrepresentation of the reality trying to create an unjustified damage to the company’s reputation. Stakeholders should therefore be very careful in relying on its content.
Webuild is always open to dialogue with its stakeholders, inviting them to look for information on the Company’s practices and projects from reliable sources.