International firms work behind ‘corporate veil’ in Qatar
A sociology professor advising the Qatar Foundation has told BBC Newsnight that international contractors operating in the country choose to work behind a “corporate veil” separating them from the realities of human rights abuses.
Professor Ray Jureidini was speaking in a Newsnight report by Sue Lloyd Roberts that linked appalling conditions for two individual labourers with their ultimate employer – Carillion.
Professor Jureidini argued that international contractors should get more involved in asking questions about the conditions under which migrant labourers arrived in Qatar and then live and work, which might include extortionate “recruitment fees” and withholding of passports.
The labourers might, as in Carillion’s case, be employed by sub-subcontractors supplying labour to sites. UK-based contractors operating in Qatar currently include Carillion and Interserve. [Corrected 23 Dec – Mace is operating in Qatar as a consultant, not a contractor].
BBC reporter Sue Lloyd Roberts visited the Msheireb complex, said to be one of the largest construction sites in the world. She met Imran, a 32-year-old Bangladeshi, who said he was promised £263 a month by his employer – which supplied labour to a Carillion subcontractor – but only received a quarter of that after paying for his living expenses and repaying a recruitment agent’s fee.
“My room there isn’t fit for humans – six of us share and there’s no place even to sit and eat,” he said.
Another worker in a different labour camp, called Sanjay, said: “I am working for Carillion. When I’m on the construction site, I don’t get safety glasses or gloves.”
Carillion responded with a statement on its website which stressed that it was conducting an immediate investigation: “Carillion is deeply concerned and surprised by the claims made by Newsnight concerning workers employed by our subcontractors in Qatar which were reported in the programme broadcast on the 8th December. We are conducting an immediate review of these claims to establish the position and take appropriate action.”
It also said: “We make it clear to all of our subcontractors that they must comply with Carillion Health & Safety standards on our sites – the same as those applied in the UK. In addition, we also require our subcontractors to comply with the requirements set within Qatar Labour Law in respect of payment of wages, living conditions and employment rights. Where we identify inappropriate practices or subcontractors/sub-suppliers not meeting our standards we will work with them to help them improve. If they are either not prepared or unable to do this, we will engage alternative suppliers who are able to.”
The company also posted detailed Q&A information explaining its policies on living conditions, working conditions and health and safety for both sub-contractor and directly-employed labour in Qatar.
Carillion’s corporate affairs director John Denning, speaking to Construction Manager in May, said that Carillion had always aimed to provide exemplary labour conditions in its 45 years in the region.
At the time, he said: “As a contractor, we have tried to differentiate ourselves on labour – how workers are housed, fed and provided for. That costs more, and on some projects we will simply not bother to bid. But if the client wants to build something prestigious, which will be there for a long time and has to be delivered on time, then they will offer a reasonable margin and we’ll bid in those circumstances.”
The BBC report included a visit to a well-run labour camp for Carillion’s directly employed workers.