Migrant workers are doing the heavy lifting for massive infrastructure projects ahead of Expo 2020 in Dubai and the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
These workers face late or no payment of wages, restrictions on their freedom to change jobs, heat stress, and dangerous living conditions.
Yet despite government labour reforms and industry commitments, today’s report finds most construction companies in Qatar and the UAE “maintain an unacceptable lack of transparency and engagement on migrant workers’ rights”.
Seventy-one percent of companies failed to show how they tackle risks to migrant workers, while fewer than four in ten have a public commitment to human rights.
Phil Bloomer, Executive Director at the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC), said:
“As tourism to Qatar and the UAE grows, visitors and sports fans should be alert to the abuse of workers embedded in the places they visit.
“After much fanfare about labour reforms, the vast majority of construction companies appear to lack any effective action to secure migrant workers’ rights, while a tiny cluster of responsible companies are showing leadership.
“There needs to be urgent action from companies and governments to protect migrant workers from heat stress, late payment of wages, abuse by bosses they are legally bound to, and lack of collective bargaining rights.
“Fortunes for the few in the Gulf can’t be built on the suffering of so many.”
The BHRRC surveyed 49 construction companies operating in Qatar and the UAE. Only 14 companies responded, which represents no increase compared with our 2016 survey.* Thirty-five companies (71%) did not respond.
BHRRC analysed the 14 survey responses along with public disclosures from all 49 companies. The report – On Shaky Ground: Migrant workers’ rights in Qatar and UAE construction – finds only 39% (19/35) have a public commitment to human rights.
Just three respondents – Besix, Multiplex and Vinci (QDVC) – detailed concrete measures to check subcontractors pay workers on time and in full.
No companies report having an explicit policy for protecting workers from heat stress all year round. Only four of the 14 respondents claim they engage with civil society and global trade unions about labour abuse in their supply chains.
The report recommends that construction companies adopt welfare policies for the specific risks migrant workers face in Qatar and the UAE. This includes protections from heat stress and late payment of wages, ensuring the freedom to change jobs, and convening worker committees for representation and collective bargaining.
The report also calls for effective government regulation of the construction sector on these issues with penalties for labour rights violations.