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18 Oct 2019

17/10/19 - Adam Barnett, Communications Officer, BHRRC

Construction sector shows ‘lack of action’ on tackling forced labour of workers globally, says NGO

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London, UK – The construction industry shows a “lack of action” on tackling forced labour around the world, according to a labour rights project, which warns the sector’s rapid growth is not being matched by improvement in policies to protect workers.

Read the briefing here.

In a new guidance briefing (out today) KnowTheChain – which tracks corporate efforts to address forced labour in supply chains – argues construction companies and investors need to step up and carry out human rights checks to prevent the exploitation of vulnerable workers.

The construction sector is growing rapidly, employing around 7% of the global workforce and ten million construction workers in the Gulf region alone.

But exploitation in the construction sector is rife, with an estimated 4.5 million construction workers in forced labour globally. Construction is the second highest-risk sector for forced labour after domestic work.

Construction workers face non-payment of wages, debt bondage, and being lost in complex supply chains, with risks higher for the sector’s significant migrant workforce.

Today’s guidance presents investors with the information they need to understand the risks of forced labour in the construction sector, and the key questions they should ask to avoid these risks and help clean up this growing industry.

Felicitas Weber, KnowTheChain project lead, said:

“The global construction sector is growing rapidly, but companies’ human rights policies are not keeping up with this growth.

“The sector has a systemic problem of forced labour, and right now companies show a lack of action to address this appalling abuse.

“Responsible investors have a role to play in ensuring the sector’s growth doesn’t increase the risk of construction workers being forced into exploitation.”

She added: “This guidance provides construction investors with the tools they need to drive meaningful change in this sector, avoid risk, and protect workers from forced labour and abuse.”

Research by KnowTheChain’s partner organisation Business & Human Rights Resource Centre has looked at construction in the Gulf and Middle East regions, where global construction firms are a major employer and draw international investment. 

BHRRC found that just 39% of the 49 construction companies surveyed operating in Qatar and the UAE have a public commitment to human rights. Only three of these companies disclosed measures to ensure their contractors pay their workers in full and on time, even though unfair wage practices can leave workers vulnerable to forced labour.

In Jordan and Lebanon, just 2/38 construction companies have policies to prevent workers being forced to pay recruitment fees, and just one disclosed information on how it ensures wages are paid on time for all hours worked.

These abuses also occur in the UK, where a third of the country’s 100,000 construction workers from Europe have carried out work for no pay.

The guidance cites UK company Laing O’Rourke and French company Vinci (QDVC) as examples of good practice, the first for due diligence on recruitment agents to prevent workers being charged fees, and the second for facilitating worker’s welfare committees for the airing of grievances. 



Find out more about KnowTheChain here.  


Media Contact:

Adam Barnett, Communications Officer, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, [email protected], +44 (0)7753 975769, +44 (0)20 7636 7774 

Felicitas Weber, KnowTheChain project lead, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, [email protected]


Notes to editor:

Forced labour can be understood as work that is performed involuntarily and under the menace of any penalty. It refers to situations in which persons are coerced to work through the use of violence or intimidation, or by more subtle means such as manipulated debt, retention of identity papers or threats of denunciation to immigration authorities.” (International Labour Organisation)