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Sunday, September 19, 2021

Vinci faces legal complaint over migrant workers’ treatment in Qatar

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

Updated at 7:25pm to include comments from a Vinci spokesperson

In a bid to improve conditions for Qatar’s migrant workforce, a human rights organization is seeking the intervention of a foreign court after accusing a French company of mistreating laborers in Doha.

Paris-based Sherpa told Doha News that it recently filed a legal complaint with a public prosecutor in its home country to investigate French infrastructure giant Vinci.

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.

Sherpa alleges that workers on QDVC projects are subjected to “forced labor.”

In a statement, Vinci – which has some 3,500 employees in Qatar – denied the charge and said this week that it would sue Sherpa for defamation.

Violations

Members of Sherpa, which is an association of lawyers working on behalf of financial crime victims, visited Qatar last November and spoke to some 20 laborers working on various QDVC projects, including Sheraton Park and the Doha Metro’s Red Line South.

Sheraton Park
Sheraton Park

Marie-Laure Guislain, the head of litigation in Sherpa’s corporate liability department, told Doha News that her team interviewed both workers directly employed by QDVC and some subcontractors.

Seven workers agreed to sign statements and allow Sherpa to use their testimony, she said.

According to Guislain, the workers said their employer had confiscated their passport – which is illegal under Qatari law – and threatened them if they complained about their living and working conditions, or asked to change employers.

“This constitutes forced labour under French law,” Guislain said.

In response, Vinci said in its statement that the company goes beyond the minimum standards of Qatar’s labor laws and basic human rights:

“We have built new housing facilities at the beginning of this year in order to provide our workers with better living conditions. Moreover, 70 percent of our workers decide to return to QDVC and sign new two-year contracts when their previous contracts expire and they return from their holidays.”

A Vinci spokesperson, who asked not to be named, told Doha News that QDVC previously rented accommodations for its laborer workforce that lacked individual safety boxes for each tenant.

As such, passports were collectively kept in a master safety box, the spokesperson said. Every worker signed, in their own language, that they authorized the camp supervisor to keep their passport in a safe place.

“At any moment, at any time, if they wanted to get the 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.”

In January, QDVC opened its own labor camp in Al Khor with a capacity of 2,000 tenants. There are no bunk beds and each room sleeps a maximum of four people, each of whom has their own safety box, the spokesperson said.

“As soon as we complete the residence ID process, we give back their passport.”

When asked about its subcontracting policy, the spokesperson said there are two to five full-time QDVC employees assigned to audit the suppliers and subcontractors on each project. These audits include a check on how these firms treat their workers.

Vinci often makes recommendations on how its subcontractors can improve their policies and has terminated its relationship with some firms that have not been receptive, the spokesperson said.

Amnesty investigation

This is not the first time that a human rights organization has thrust QDVC into the spotlight.

In its landmark 2013 report on migrant labor in Qatar, Amnesty International documented abuses perpetrated by an unnamed company that was a supplier to QDVC’s Sheraton Park project – a four-level underground parking garage beneath a landscaped park near the iconic Doha hotel.

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

The allegations included forcing laborers to work 12 hours a day in the summer, including in areas exposed to the sun, failing to provide employees with adequate safety equipment and paying overtime erratically.

While the alleged abuses did not occur on the actual Sheraton Park worksite, they raised questions about the role of lead contractors such as QDVC in supervising the actions of their suppliers and subcontractors.

“QDVC and companies like them have a responsibility to ensure the rights of their workers are fully respected, including (those employed by) suppliers,” Amnesty researcher Mustafa Qadri told Doha News.

Accountability

Some local organizations, namely Qatar Foundation as well as the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy – which is overseeing the construction of the country’s 2022 World Cup stadiums and training facilities – appear to have a similar attitude.

Qatar Foundation stadium rendering
Qatar Foundation stadium rendering

Both have so-called workers’ charters that set out minimum working and living conditions for the employees of companies that win contracts with the organizations.

The Supreme Committee document states that it is the responsibility of the lead contractor to ensure its “other contracting parties” comply with the workers’ charter.

“We’re not talking about QDVC directly being responsible for the abuses. But nevertheless, we’re talking about suppliers working (for) QDVC,” Qadri said of Amnesty’s 2013 report.

He said he could not comment on Sherpa’s allegations. However, Amnesty has used the term “forced labor” to describe the situation of many workers in Qatar.

Qadri said this includes individuals working under terms that they did not consent to, as well as under coercion. He said this is enabled by Qatar’s sponsorship, or kafala, system, which prohibits expats from leaving the country or changing employers without their sponsor’s permission.

“It creates the conditions where the risk (of forced labor) is very high,” Qadri said.

Legal warning

While the legal complaint involving Vinci was filed with authorities in France, lawyers in other jurisdictions have looked at similar measures in the past.

In 2013, UK firms working on projects in Qatar were warned that they could could face civil actions filed on behalf of migrant workers in their home courts.

“If a British company engages on a project on which migrant workers are subject to abuse, then they must face the very real prospect of being held to account in this country for their actions,” Nichola Marshall from law firm Leigh Day told the publication Construction Manager.

Sherpa faces an uphill battle in launching a legal case against Vinci. Guislain said that even if they can convince a prosecutor to launch an investigation, there is no guarantee that charges will be laid or that Vinci would be found guilty.

However, Guislain said she hopes that the public attention any such case garners will prompt multinational companies to take the issue of workers’ rights more seriously.

“We really hope that this complaint makes a difference for workers. We really want these complaints to improve the working conditions on Vinci’s work sites.”

Thoughts?

46 COMMENTS

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Yacine
Yacine
6 years ago

So a foreign NGO is sueing a foreign company mistreating foreign labourers before a foreign court. And the whole story is happening in Qatar.
Now the question: where are the Qatari authorities in this story?

sicti
sicti
6 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

Qatari Diar is a state company, majority shareholders in QDVC JV.

Anonymouse
Anonymouse
6 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that a French NGO is suing a French company in a French court for mistreating TCN labour in Qatar?

Yacine
Yacine
6 years ago
Reply to  Anonymouse

I wanted to say that the story, which sounds like another PR disaster, is happening in Qatar. Yet the main actors are foreign and the Qatari authorities (and Diar Management) are spectators for now. They will probably wake up when it is too late and when it is already in the Guardian 🙂
Sometimes I feel like the Qatari gvt’s biggest enemy is its own incompetency

Anonymouse
Anonymouse
6 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

There has been a marked lack of leadership from the Qatari government on this issue. The lack of public relations competence is astounding.

Smile
Smile
6 years ago
Reply to  Anonymouse

Like i said before, Public Relations in most company in here is a Mandoop who goes to Immigration to renew staff ID, and for finger print etc. the so called Mandoop knows nothing about Public Relations, who cannot even define PR, who has never read a book about PR. Most others are marketers or mostly in big organisations, Journalist turn PR. My opinion and my experience since June 2011 in Doha.

Anonymouse
Anonymouse
6 years ago
Reply to  Smile

Indeed, but that is no excuse for the government. Maybe it is simply a case that you can’t polish a turd?

KK
KK
6 years ago

Interesting to see where this will lead.

RM
RM
6 years ago

So they found 20 people from a team of 3500 and they thought it was appropriate to file a case. Show me one company in the world where low income people are happy with the company. You have to visit the camp before drawing conclusions. But wait people who can declare safekeeping of passports as forced labor can make you believe anything. My own maid wanted me to keep not only the passport but even her salary as she would like to take it only when she would go to Sri Lanka on holidays, so should I be charged for forced labor?

Red_Panigale
Red_Panigale
6 years ago
Reply to  RM

Keeping your employee’s passport is illegal in Qatar so yes, you are breaking the law and are a criminal.

You are an adult and you cannot point fingers to others that they ‘asked’ you to break the law.

AEC
AEC
6 years ago
Reply to  Red_Panigale

Holding onto an employees pay would also constitute not paying them in most reasonable countries. Not paying people for the work they do is slavery if they can not leave.

Anonymouse
Anonymouse
6 years ago
Reply to  RM

Why are you admitting your crimes on a public forum?

Smile
Smile
6 years ago
Reply to  RM

You are absolutely wrong RM. As a matter of fact, you should open Bank Account for your maid and transfer her salary into her Account directly. This is good for you as you have proof that you pay your maid salaries in case of eventuality. You never can tell MR RM. Your maid is an adult, if she cannot keep her salary, then you should not trust her with your kids. Added to these, you should get a locker with key for your maid to keep her things and keep the key to her self.
And answer to your question. YES, you should be charge for forced labour for not paying your maid salaries directly into a bank account in her name. You decide not your maid. You should know better than your maid.
My opinion…and if i am wrong, i will glad to read others comments on this issue.

Stephen L. Rosal
Stephen L. Rosal
6 years ago
Reply to  RM

its true. some of our co-workers would even ask our admin to keep not only their passports but but some cash and other valuables as well for safety reasons. when in another country safety is the best policy.

Red_Panigale
Red_Panigale
6 years ago

So if your employees ask you to run them over with a car you will do it?

If you are in possession of their passports, you are breaking the law of the state of Qatar. You can give all the excuses you want but a crime is a crime and your admin should know better than to break the law on behalf of QDVC.

Stephen L. Rosal
Stephen L. Rosal
6 years ago
Reply to  Red_Panigale

at first I thought you have a very reasonable and intelligent mind but your question “So if your employees ask you to run them over with a car you will do it?” makes me think otherwise.

Red_Panigale
Red_Panigale
6 years ago

Its the same thing. You cannot break a law and point your finger to someone else and say that they asked you to do it. QDVC is in violation of laws set by the government of Qatar. No buts or what-ifs.

Also, your admin is an incompetent, mentally challenged leprechaun if he accepted passports from employees. After giving him the passports, employees can easily go to the police and claim your company took them by force and you will be fined 10,000 riyals per passport.

You are not 5 years old when you can make excuses and be spared. Adults are responsible for their actions.

Stephen L. Rosal
Stephen L. Rosal
6 years ago

Worked as an Accountant with Vinci Construction Grand Projets for 7 years in their Man-made River Project in Libya. There was no such thing as forced labor or any labor law violation. Air coned Accommodation is good. The explanation on keeping the workers’ passport is understandable and it is for the workers’ benefit. Anytime anyone can get his passport for valid reasons like when sending money home, remittance companies require it.

Red_Panigale
Red_Panigale
6 years ago

Holding passports is illegal according to Qatar labour law and qdvc is breaking the law.

The explanations, how/what/but etc. don’t matter.

AEC
AEC
6 years ago
Reply to  Red_Panigale

And it looks like Vinci is also breaking European law in this case.

Red_Panigale
Red_Panigale
6 years ago
Reply to  AEC

Yes and American labor and criminal laws as well.

Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act – United States of America

http://www.dhs.gov/human-trafficking-laws-regulations

If one of these workers make it out west, this company can be sued for a LOT of money and their management can go to prison for running a human trafficking and slavery ring.

Stephen L. Rosal
Stephen L. Rosal
6 years ago
Reply to  Red_Panigale

i think holding your employees’ passport is illegal only when you are doing it against their will.

Red_Panigale
Red_Panigale
6 years ago

You are not here to think. You are here to follow the rules of the State of Qatar.

Holding passports of employees is illegal in Qatar. Period.

“Sponsors may not keep the passports of their employees except to complete visa formalities.”

Government source –
http://portal.www.gov.qa/wps/portal/!ut/p/a0/04_Sj9CPykssy0xPLMnMz0vMAfIjy5NzrQoSSzJUDY0dVQ08SrPz83MzVQ2NDMJTk0CUc35eSWpeCULKICS_IDO5WNXANbcgJ78yFyQJVJeYlwLWlV-UXZCTmJyqauCTmJRfBBLzSSzXL8h2VAQAvnrYiQ!!/

Anonymouse
Anonymouse
6 years ago

Doesn’t matter whether you or any company finds it ‘understandable’. It is a crime and one doesn’t get to choose to commit a crime, QED.

Michael Fryer
Michael Fryer
6 years ago

Thanks for confirming that Vinci does indeed break the law by holding passports.

dj25q
dj25q
6 years ago
Reply to  Michael Fryer

what surprises me is that the law which issued in 2009 considers holding employee’s passport a crime that is punishable with a fine of 10k for each passport, you will be surprised that even if an employee at police station or the civil court is reporting such crime and claiming his/her passport, will then be told that it is the sponsor’s right to hold of employee’s passport ! it is not the law to talk about, it is the enforcement !

Guest
Guest
6 years ago

What benefits would the laborers get from their passports being held?

Stephen L. Rosal
Stephen L. Rosal
6 years ago
Reply to  Guest

benefits: it saves them from spending a lot, time , money and effort to get a replacement in case of loss.

Jaded
Jaded
6 years ago

I know companies that give the option to keep passports in the company safe, some do it and others prefer to hold on to passports. I think that’s how you provide the benefit, by giving a voluntary choice to keep your passport with the company, rather than keeping it by default and supposedly providing it whenever requested.

2 Cents
2 Cents
6 years ago

But haven’t anyone noticed that he said “Libya” and not “Qatar”.

I love anecdotes. It really shows how people can assume that If one contradicts by giving his own experience, everyone should start disbelieving the article. Despite it giving factual information. Nice!

I also promise, from this day on, to give anecdotal evidences to disprove claims of reports and factual investigations!

Stephen L. Rosal
Stephen L. Rosal
6 years ago
Reply to  2 Cents

I can only assume that if your employer like Vinci has been doing the right things in Libya they would be doing the right things anywhere else.

PaoloT
PaoloT
6 years ago

“At any moment, at any time, if they wanted to get the passport could go to the camp manager and get their passport,” the spokesperson said……..ANYWAY THEY CANNOT GET AN EXIT VISA WITHOUT EMPLOYER’S ACTION…..

Rizza Mendoza
Rizza Mendoza
6 years ago

QDVC is one of the finest companies that any job seeker could ever find in Qatar and its employees take pride in being part of an organization that makes workers’ wellbeing and safety its top priority. Having witnessed the incessant efforts and amount of time and resources that QDVC spend to sustain the good living conditions it provides to its employees, I find Sherpa’s allegations as nothing
but blatant lies concocted to draw attention to their unheard-of firm in France.

The management of QDVC helps newly hired workers to assimilate quickly into their new environment by conducting safety trainings and orientation about Qatar labor law. QDVC religiously fulfills all its commitments by paying salaries and benefits on time. QDVC also provides excellent accommodations fully equipped with amenities such as medical clinic, prayer hall, recreational and sports facilities like gymnasium, basketball court, viewing rooms, etc. QDVC even put up its own
Training Center to improve workers’ skills before sending them to project sites – talk about migrant workers maltreatment and forced labor!

Passports were never confiscated nor workers threatened – Sherpa surely knows how to use strong words to spark controversy. Workers can get their passport entrusted for safekeeping any time they wish. Issues or concerns, if any are discussed through an open dialogue with workers’ welfare committee to address them positively.

Sherpa should have done their homework thoroughly before orchestrating a publicity stunt. QDVC
employees can vouch for the fact that there never has been and there will never be a case of workers’ human rights violations in QDVC.

MIMH
MIMH
6 years ago
Reply to  Rizza Mendoza

We thank you for taking the time to reply as we realise your time is precious as the HR Manager of QDVC.

Rizza Mendoza
Rizza Mendoza
6 years ago
Reply to  MIMH

sorry to disappoint you, MIMH but I’m just a regular employee who wishes to express my opinion on this rubbish issue…

Michael L
Michael L
6 years ago
Reply to  Rizza Mendoza

Do you want to declare an interest here ? I assume you are a QDVC employee ? If so you should declare it

AMM
AMM
6 years ago
Reply to  Michael L

I’m also QDVC employee and I agree 100% with what Rizza said. All allegations are misleading and if anyone wants to find out the truth they should visit QDVC labour camps.

Red_Panigale
Red_Panigale
6 years ago
Reply to  Rizza Mendoza

The government of Qatar has made it illegal to hold worker’s passports. You can come up with any excuse you want (safekeeping, convenience, lack of safety boxes etc.) but that doesn’t matter.

Breaking the law is breaking the law.

Amith
Amith
6 years ago

I would like to say, QDVC is a very reputed company and always trying to keep
their standard in a high level.

But in the reality some department or department head or some
higher post personals troubling their staff unnecessarily like paying 8hr and
let their staff work 12 hrs without giving OT, giving poor facility or cutting
some facility for their personal benefits and do buttering the management.
There are many issues going on in the company like other companies including in
the camp.

But
company cannot wash off their hands from this issue because they are the one who recruited this
officials

Expat77
Expat77
6 years ago
Reply to  Amith

I feel electronic punching of work hours should undergo random inspection by Govt authorities about salary and OT transferred to bank, and whether calculations done on what percentage for OT.

Coco
Coco
6 years ago

DN needs some new pics when it comes to “labor news”…these are getting old and it makes it look like it’s the same article all over again.

micmac
micmac
6 years ago

🙂

micmac
micmac
6 years ago

The people need to experience how to work 50 Degrees under the sun you can say that QDVC is one of the best company or maybe your staying in a nice office with AC with a tea boy that can bring your cold drinks when ever you want or you have one of the high position of the company. But how about those people who have no power against the bad treatment of QDVC sites.How about US! I agree your an HR Manager just sitting on one of the tallest tower in DOHA 🙂

Brian
Brian
6 years ago

As a QDVC employee, we employees have easy access to our passports when they are safeguarded by the management. Some employees (like I) prefer to keep their passports with them, and so they do. It doesn’t matter if the passports is kept safe within the company’s management or with you; after all you need an EXIT PERMIT to leave doha !

Hoshin
Hoshin
6 years ago

Many people here are talking about what they dont know. Have you ever visited one of these accomodation or construction site ? Many companies in qatar are unsafe to work with a treat workers as slaves, that is true. Qatar law and peoples mind still needs to be improved that is true. But QDVC represents the exact opposit. Come anytime to see by yourself before saying bullshit

RC
RC
6 years ago

I’m a QDVC employee and I’m leaving in Camp Accommodation in Al Khor City, (Umm Birka & QIT Camp before) now we have New Accommodation in Umm Al Hawaya Exit 44 Al Khor with 100% fully equipped amenities and I’m surely about that. For the Issue of passports, QDVC collects our passport for SAFEKEEPING with agreement between the employees (labours) and the company.(signed during the arrival date of the workers).

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