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Opinion

The Gulf Construction Tracker: Who is employing migrant workers in the Gulf?

In 2015, the Resource Centre embarked on a project to advance human rights in the operations of construction companies building in Qatar and the UAE, where we observed increasing reports of labour abuse of migrant workers. Working amongst a rich set of allies in civil society, academia, business and the trade union movement, we wanted to understand how companies were responding to the risks being documented and to identify examples of better practice that could be replicated throughout the industry.

To engage companies on these issues, we first needed to know which companies were operating in the region and this information wasn’t easily available. It soon became clear that we needed publicly available, comprehensive and timely data on current and awarded construction projects so we could identify employers of migrant construction workers in the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) : Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

To fill this gap, we began to track the ongoing awards of construction contracts in the region, in a joint project with the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights and Humanity United. The data collected relies on publicly available sources of online information on contract awards in the GCC, focusing on contracts that are likely to require the labour of large numbers of low-income migrant workers.

After one year of tracking new contracts, today we jointly launch the Gulf Construction Tracker and research brief - Gulf Construction Tracker: 2017 Trends in Contract Awards - which aim to provide greater clarity on the type of projects awarded and the companies winning contracts in the GCC.

This tool equips civil society organizations, journalists, investors, businesses, international and academic institutions with a better understanding of the construction sector across the GCC countries, and in turn, enable them to conduct more targeted research and advocacy to improve the situation of migrant workers.

The Gulf Construction Tracker provides a central public online database of new construction projects likely to employ low-wage migrant workers, pulling out key trends on the value and patterns of contract awards. The data in the tracker currently covers contract awards we recorded between January 2017 to December 2017 and the data is available for download in a .csv file for users to run their own analyses. We will continue to track contract awards and update the data on the tracker on a monthly basis.

The Trend Analysis delves deeper into the data collected, identifying the companies awarding and receiving contracts and the country-level trends and priority areas in construction spending. The initial analysis identifies Saudi Arabia and the UAE as the most active construction markets in the GCC and therefore likely to employ larger numbers of low-income migrant workers. Much like the 2022 World Cup in Qatar has galvanized advocacy on migrant workers’ rights in the country, the 2020 World Expo in Dubai and Saudi’s development ambitions under Vision 2030 could provide similar leverage.

The analysis also identifies the dominance of large public-sector clients in the GCC, who have the opportunity to incorporate worker welfare into their construction procurement (tendering) processes. This involves pre-screening and allocating contract awards to contractors and construction actors based on their compliance with worker welfare standards and making compliance contractually binding. The introduction of regulation by GCC governments would serve to level the playing field for construction contractors in a market where companies operate to differing standards and where many do not prioritise workers’ rights.

We encourage others to use the tracker for their own analyses, whether it be the tailor their advocacy and policy recommendations to the current construction context, consult the ongoing award of contracts to identify corporate advocacy targets, or to identify gaps in the data to inform areas for further research and calls for increased transparency.

To reach us with questions about the tracker or to submit information please contact us at [email protected].