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Saturday, March 6, 2021

French judiciary to look into allegations of worker abuse in Qatar

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Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Prosecutors in France have agreed to open a preliminary investigation into claims that construction company Vinci has been mistreating laborers in Qatar.

The move comes after Paris-based human rights organization Sherpa filed a legal complaint in France alleging that workers on Vinci-related projects here were subjected to “forced labor.”

France-based Vinci’s Construction Grands Projects division owns 49 percent of QDVC, one of Qatar’s most prominent developers. The other 51 percent is owned by the Qatari Diar, the real estate arm of the country’s sovereign wealth fund.

Sheraton Park
Sheraton Park

Sherpa said that last year, it interviewed workers on various QDVC projects, including Sheraton Park and the Doha Metro’s Red Line South, as well as several subcontracted employees.

Some laborers told the group that their employer had confiscated their passports – which is illegal under Qatari law – and threatened them if they complained about their living and working conditions, or asked to change employers.

Vinci told Doha News last month that the housing conditions workers complained about had been temporary, and that the company built a new labor camp that opened in Al Khor in January.

A spokesperson added that the workers’ previous accommodations did not have individual safes to protect documents. Thus, passports were collectively kept in a master safe, with the signed permission of each employee.

“At any moment, at any time, if they wanted to get their passport they could go to the camp manager and get their passport,” the spokesperson said. “We were not happy with that system, but there was a (shortage of) worker’s housing in Qatar.”

Long road

Though prosecutors have agreed to investigate Sherpa’s claims, the inquiry will likely take several months, the Guardian reports.

And speaking to Doha News last month, Sherpa said that an investigation does not necessarily guarantee that charges would be filed or that Vinci would be found guilty.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

For its part, Vinci has filed a defamation lawsuit against Sherpa and some of its employees.

If the company is successful, the human rights group said it could be hit with €405,000 in legal fines, compensatory damages and publications of the decision. Two of its members, Laetitia Liebert and Marie-Laure Guislain, would also have to pay €203,000 in penalties.

Despite the lawsuit, Sherpa said in a statement on its website:

“We are delighted that Vinci’s complaint gives us another opportunity to open up public debate on the respect of workers’ fundamental rights on its construction sites in Qatar.

Our actions have already produced results because Vinci’s spokesmen have been obliged to answer for their practices and above all have reported improvements to working conditions on their construction sites in Qatar since the enquiry and in the future. We hope that these declarations will be followed up with concrete and tangible improvements in the living and working conditions in place there.”

Thoughts?

29 COMMENTS

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Coco
Coco
5 years ago

Which prosecutors and under what jurisdiction? When you say “french government” it is either deliberately misleading or an attempt to get extra clicks. I’m not questioning the allegations (I’ve been here long enough) but that does not excuse back yard reporting. You make it sound like France will invade Qatar to scold them and “set things in order”.

Osama Alassiry AlMaadeed
Reply to  Coco

France, French company Vinci… I’ve seen similar title and content on another website… Make it look like the “Country of France” is acting against the “Country of Qatar”…

A French NGO is suing a French company for the actions of subcontractors of a subsidiary.

Michael Fryer
Michael Fryer
5 years ago

Umm, no. That’s not correct.

It isn’t Sherpa that has launched the legal action, it’s the French Public Prosecutor of Nanterre, which is a suburb in Paris.

Coco
Coco
5 years ago
Reply to  Michael Fryer

Perhaps this should have been reflected in the article somehow? Thanks for the info btw. Still does not justify the “french govt” bit in this article. This is not a personal blog (or a collective one) but a news agency (or pretends to be one).

Michael Fryer
Michael Fryer
5 years ago
Reply to  Coco

And to answer your question about jurisdiction, ramifications etc see here:

“Under European law, European firms can be sued for serious labor violations in their supply chain abroad,” McGeehan said by email. “Where Qatar and the other Gulf states are concerned, it’s probably more a question of when a European construction firm gets sued rather than if.”

http://www.espnfc.com/fifa-world-cup/story/2364553/qatar-construction-giant-vinci-sued-over-modern-slavery

AEC
AEC
5 years ago
Reply to  Michael Fryer

So expect a big shift to Asian and American companies before the WC.

Michael Fryer
Michael Fryer
5 years ago
Reply to  Coco

PS…

Prosecutor: “One who prosecutes another for a crime in the name of the government.”

Coco
Coco
5 years ago
Reply to  Michael Fryer

The “another” in this case is a company Vinci and not the State of Qatar. My issue was not with the legal aspects but rather with the poorly written and misleading article that presented everything in a different light.

johnny wang
johnny wang
5 years ago
Reply to  Coco

If the right and proper corrective action is not taken now rather then later then a lot more others could be included in this investigation

Yacine
Yacine
5 years ago

Unlike what the misleading title claims, the French government will certainly try to play down the issue. The French ambassador is probably now talking to Qatari authorities in order to explain to them that they are against the prosecution, that it came from a handful of stupid self-righteous people and that they will make sure the judge dismisses the allegations.

A_qtr
A_qtr
5 years ago

If host gov’t of companies operating in Doha start turning up the heat this will force these companies to stop turning a blind eye on these abuses..

Have you noted all labor abuses are more or less one industry? Construction.. and not say in oil and gas, which is also labor intensive espically in construction phases. I’m not saying abuses does not exist in the construction of oil and gas facilities but the fact that many reputable global companies operate in this field they take labor abuse very seriously … And won’t sacrifice their reputation due to dark age practices of a few smaller greedy construction company… Many compines in the oil and gas field put audit rights in their contracts and ensure it is carried out in the sub-contracts authorizing the company to make suprise spot checks on the housing facilities .. Catering.. Legal status of the workers and even health checks… Employees being paid on time… In addition to adhering to the main company safety rules… Any contracter who doesn’t is automatically black listed from working with all other oil and gas companies .. Sure this means construction is more expansive but at least thre workers are treated like humans

fullmoon07
fullmoon07
5 years ago
Reply to  A_qtr

contructions and maids. The more vulnerable workers in this country

jalong
jalong
5 years ago
Reply to  A_qtr

“Have you noted all labor abuses are more or less one industry? Construction.”

Uh, no. Perhaps the most egregious abuses, but I’ve seen plenty abuses in other industries. Weak labor laws impact every worker here.

Talal Mousa
Talal Mousa
5 years ago
Reply to  jalong

good and valid point

Coco
Coco
5 years ago

The title was revised to say the same thing. Is it so hard to say “Vinci Qatar”? Name the company and show the location. The french will not come to “investigate Kumar & Family WLL or some other local companies.

AEC
AEC
5 years ago

What does this mean: “Hold on, this is waiting to be approved by Doha News.” Have you added moderation?

MIMH
MIMH
5 years ago

Surely the State of Qatar should prosecute companies in Qatar for any violations and has juristiction in this case. Vinci Qatar will have a Qatari sponsor and be 51% minimum a Qatari company not a French one, so therefore Qatar should prosecute if there is enough evidence and has the will to do it.

Yousef
Yousef
5 years ago

“let them eat cake”…..is what the French Queen said before she was pulled from her palace and her head CUT OFF.

its time for that to happen again with maybe a few KINGs n QUEENS this time?

MIMH
MIMH
5 years ago
Reply to  Yousef

Are you suggesting revolution in Qatar? That’s very dangerous….

johnny wang
johnny wang
5 years ago

Its high time somebody in authority steps in and stops this abuses once and for all. Denying that this abuses no not happen or brushing the stories under the carpet makes the facts come out even more stronger. Any issues, complaints and abuses should be checked and corrective and remedial action taken so that it does not give a bad name to the whole industry

John
John
5 years ago

They mistreat their staff too , particularly at site offices .

Colin Cayless
Colin Cayless
5 years ago

I want to defend Doha News here. The article is very clear in the first sentence that “Prosecutors in France have agreed to open a preliminary investigation into claims that construction company Vinci has been mistreating laborers in Qatar” and not the state of Qatar. It is also very clear on the ownership structure. It is also very balanced in reflecting Vinci’s response and their counter case. I think it is a very balanced piece.
Hopefully some of the posts here leaping to the defense of the Qatar and criticism is as a consequence of a misunderstanding of the French legal system or English as a second language. Hopefully it isn’t just blaming the messenger when you don’t like the message.

Yacine
Yacine
5 years ago

No I am not confused. And they actually do have a mechanism to make sure the judge dismisses the case, by appointing one of their docile and obeying judges. When diplomacy, money and lobbying come into play, justice can have a break.

AEC
AEC
5 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

I am not clear what you are actually inferring could happen. In France they assign cases randomly within geographic and subject area constraints. Are you suggesting once they are randomly assigned they would be reassigned for political reasons at the whim of some higher power?

Yacine
Yacine
5 years ago
Reply to  AEC

Yes

Yuns
Yuns
5 years ago

Many more companies are abusing with workers and staffs also. can labor department personally investigate each companies labor accommodation, welfare facilities, workers duty timing and his wages? Almost workers are suffering health problem due to the poor work schedule, workers are sleeping every day after 12:00 AM and weak up every day 3:00 AM in the morning. Workers are not able to complain their problem in labor department because employers will take action against complain but they will not find root cause of the complain. So, almost workers are not going to complain labor department due to the save their job.

Dr. Nizam
Dr. Nizam
5 years ago
Reply to  Yuns

What is the point of going to labor department ?. Department will support only employer. Did you ever visited labor department in Qatar ?.

Yuns
Yuns
5 years ago

Labour department must make one general survey in each company related workers welfare facilities, work schedule, health related issues and his wages. Post general help line numbers in whole qatar for labours and no need to take complainer details, only take his problem and companies name, accommodation and site address. Labour department must visit complained companies address and should take action against them.

Dr. Nizam
Dr. Nizam
5 years ago

Don’t listen to anyone speak about labor right in Qatar and how govt. is supporting labor?. Just go to labor department to complaint against abuse or salary issues or to claim gratuities. Then will understand where is labor law and labor’s rights.

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