VINCI's response to the new allegations made by Sherpa
VINCI has learnt of Sherpa’s recent decision to file a new complaint regarding working conditions on its construction sites in Qatar. As from the outset, VINCI continues to deny these allegations.
Sherpa filed an initial complaint in 2015. After a detailed inquiry over the last three years, a process in which VINCI cooperated fully, the public prosecutor of Nanterre decided to dismiss the investigation entirely and close the case, in particular due to a lack of evidence provided by Sherpa. In the decision, the public prosecutor highlighted VINCI’s transparency and its decision to voluntarily conduct a human rights impact assessment through an independent third party. The NGO that carried out the audit, Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), concluded that “despite a challenging context, QDVC has a good level of performance that positively contributes to mitigating risks of violations to the human rights of its employees and sub-contractors”.
VINCI honestly questions the sustained provocation campaign Sherpa seems to be pursuing by filing a second complaint as the company has always sought to promote and improve working conditions in Qatar.
The latest report published by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) ranked VINCI/QDVC at the top of their survey of construction companies operating in the Gulf1. The ranking was based on the transparency of its recruitment practices, living and working conditions, freedom of movement and association, measures to mitigate risks related to sub-contracting and the consultation and grievance procedures in place.
In addition to the existing grievance mechanism – managed by the CSR department, the elected QDVC Workers’ Welfare Committee and health and safety representatives – the company has set up an independent complaints procedure after signing the agreement with the Building and Wood Worker's International (BWI)2. This system allows all QDVC employees or sub-contractors to refer any unresolved complaints to BWI, which then involves QDVC or VINCI to find a solution. The mechanism is working. BWI has already been called upon and the employees involved have had their complaints resolved. Compensation has been awarded in cases where procedures were lacking. Workers can also file a complaint through the mechanism of Qatar’s Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs, either directly or with the support of the ILO. This mechanism has been the subject of widespread communication throughout the company. Sherpa has not referred any complaint to either of these independent third-party systems for the incidents alleged in their second complaint, which shows they prefer to take the legal, highly public route rather than opting for mediation to find a solution to the workers’ concerns.
VINCI feels it is important to point out that by filing a defamation lawsuit, in which it was asking only for 1 single symbolic euro, the company was not seeking to “gag” Sherpa. The Group simply believes that it cannot allow an NGO, however noble their cause, to make such serious allegations without trying to verify the facts and enter into dialogue with the company. Following the first complaint, VINCI decided on the contrary to open up its sites and offer greater transparency about its practices. Fully conscious of the complexity of matters relating to workers’ rights in Qatar, VINCI works continuously with its various stakeholders. Below are four examples of such efforts:
1. The Group signed a framework agreement on workers’ rights in Qatar with Building and Wood Worker's International (BWI)3. A roadmap has been defined with the global union federation to ensure the agreement is properly implemented. BWI will conduct an inspection of QDVC construction sites for the third time in early 20194. Furthermore, QDVC was one of the first companies in Qatar to set up a workers’ committee (in 2011) and the first to promote and organise employee representative elections. BWI provided training for the elected members of the QDVC workers’ committee after the agreement was signed.
2. The ILO and QDVC signed a partnership agreement in May 2018, within the framework of the ILO-Qatar cooperation programme, to pilot a fair recruitment intervention between Bangladesh and Qatar aiming at ensuring a recruitment process that is free of charge for migrant workers recruited by QDVC’s placement agencies and sub-contractors5. Upon the successful completion of the pilot in 2019, Qatar’s Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs and the ILO plan to further test the tools developed across the construction industry in Qatar.
3. VINCI is a member of two collaborative initiatives to combat forced labour – the Leadership Group for Responsible Recruitment6, convened by the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB), and Building Responsibly7. VINCI is a founding member of this coalition that represents over 400,000 employees alongside five other world leading engineering and construction companies to raise the bar in promoting the rights and welfare of workers across the industry. The initiative is supported by Humanity United, an American foundation that brings new approaches to global human rights problems.
4. Finally in 2013, the organisations striving to improve working conditions in Qatar had the opportunity to come and visit our sites and speak to us to assess for themselves the living and working conditions of QDVC employees. They included the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, BSR, Equidem, the Qatar Foundation, MigrantsRights.org, NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, Reach Out to Asia, along with various Qatari ministers, and the French Embassy in Qatar.
VINCI believes that, although the causes defended by Sherpa are honourable, the same cannot always be said of its methods. VINCI asks its stakeholders to read the publicly available questionnaire it has been answering since 2014 about the measures taken to prevent and mitigate risks to workers’ rights8, which provides a response to the accusations made by Sherpa in the press.