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3 Mar 2018

Syrian refugees risk exploitation in west-funded construction projects in Lebanon and Jordan

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  • None of 38 companies have public policies on risks specific to migrants and refugees
  • 36 of 38 companies failed to reply to the survey, in a ‘shocking lack of engagement’
  • Just 7 of 38 companies have public human rights policies

3/12/18, London, UK – Syrian refugees and migrant workers in general face an ‘unacceptable’ risk of exploitation in the construction sector in Jordan and Lebanon, according to a new study by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC).

The study out today – the first of its kind - reveals that none of the 38 companies surveyed have comprehensive human rights policies specifically for migrant and refugee workers.

Lebanon and Jordan are home to more than a fifth of the 5.6 million refugees from the conflict in Syria, with 650,000 in Jordan and one million in Lebanon. Syrian refuges make up an estimated 70-80% of construction workers in Lebanon.

This highly casualized sector is rife with abuse, with migrant workers facing late payments, rip-off recruitment fees, passport confiscation, unsanitary housing, discrimination, and dangerous work environments.

As part of its research, the Resource Centre interviewed a number of Syrian refugee workers who have faced these human rights abuses. You can watch a video of them describing their experiences here.

Yet the study finds a shocking lack of transparency or protections for migrant and refugees working on construction projects often funded with international financial institution money. 

The 38 companies surveyed are either international brands or are working on construction projects funded by international financial institutions (IFIs). These IFIs - including the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, USAID, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development – have invested in Jordan’s and Lebanon’s infrastructure in response to the influx of refugees from the war in Syria. Twenty of the 38 companies have received funding from IFIs.

The findings are based on the companies’ survey responses and their publicly available human rights policies and practices. Only two of the 38 companies (Alcazar Energy Partners and Vestas Wind Systems) responded to the survey, in what the report calls ‘a shocking lack of engagement’ on human rights. Non-responsive companies with large contracts include US firm BL Harbert, Chinese firm Shandong Electric Power Corporation, and the Guernsey-based Joannou & Paraskevaides Group.

Phil Bloomer, Executive Director of BHRRC, said: “In this highly abusive sector, companies working in Jordan and Lebanon appear both ignorant and indifferent to the acute human rights risks for refugees in their business. Companies, donor governments, and investors such as the multilateral banks, must ensure the jobs created by their construction projects create decent, safe work with a living wage, rather than abuse and poverty.”

This response rate is well below that of other BHRRC surveys on construction in the Middle East and of other sectors in Lebanon and Jordan. This lack of transparency is made worse by the fact that just seven of the 38 companies have publicly available policies on human rights.

Construction workers also face severe restrictions on their freedom of association. Migrant workers in Lebanon and Jordan are banned from forming a union, and all construction workers have their right to organise curtailed. None of the 38 companies surveyed have effective policies to help workers get around these restrictions, as have some companies in Gulf countries. 

The report calls for urgent action to ensure the human rights of construction workers are fully protected. Companies must publish human rights policies, including those that address risks specific to refugees and migrants and take steps to protect all their workers, including vulnerable migrants and refugees, with effective grievance mechanisms so workers have a voice.

IFIs should require strong public human rights policies from any company before they receive funding through government contracts. IFIs should also commission urgent reviews into contracts already awarded, and support civil society voices to participate in that process, including migrants and refugees.

The report also calls on the governments of Jordan and Lebanon to abolish the exploitative ‘Kafala’ system, curb the growing informality of the sector, and support better enforcement of labour laws on wages, working hours and workplace health and safety. 


Media contact 

Adam Barnett, Communications Officer, [email protected], +44 (0)7753 975769, +44 (0)20 7636 7774   

Notes to editor

Video here: https://youtu.be/uezcbI5iiSE

Full report here: https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/jordan-lebanon-construction/from-unacceptable-risks-to-shared-prosperity

Further details about the companies, construction projects and their funding can be provided upon request. 

The 38 companies were assessed against seven criteria: Transparency and public commitment to human rights, including for refugees and migrants; Ethical recruitment and freedom of movement; Timely payment and fair wages; Adequate protections for occupational safety and health; Freedom of association; Access to remedy; Engagement with civil society.

Business and Human Rights Resource Centre is an international NGO that tracks the human rights impacts (positive & negative) of over 8000 companies in over 180 countries making information available on its eight-language website. We seek responses from companies when concerns are raised by civil society. The response rate is over 75% globally. https://www.business-humanrights.org/