French builder Vinci to sue over claims of forced labor in Qatar

Tue Mar 24, 2015 3:18pm EDT
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By Dominique Vidalon and Gilles Guillaume

PARIS (Reuters) - French construction giant Vinci vigorously denied allegations it had violated the rights of migrant workers helping to build stadiums for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and said it would sue the human rights group Sherpa over its claims.

Paris-based Sherpa said it had asked the public prosecutor of Nanterre, a suburb of Paris, to open an investigation after it filed a complaint with the Nanterre court against Vinci's Construction Grand Projets division and the managers of its 49 percent-owned Qatari unit QDVC for "forced labor" and "keeping people in servitude".

Reuters was unable to independently verify Sherpa's accusations.

Vinci, which employs 3,500 people in Qatar and counts the wealthy Arab state as its second-largest shareholder, said it would sue Sherpa for libel and that the claims "severely" hurt its image.

The rest of QDVC belongs to Qatari Diar, an arm of the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), which holds 5.3 percent of Vinci's shares. QIA declined to comment.

Sherpa Managing Director Laetitia Liebert told Reuters by phone that one of the financial crime-focused organization's lawyers traveled to Qatar in November and over a week secured the "signed" testimonies of between 10 and 15 witnesses about their work conditions.

The testimonies claim that these migrants worked an average of 66 hours per week, lived as many as eight to a room, and operated in "difficult even dangerous" conditions and in "stifling heat".

"There were cases where passports were confiscated, preventing the migrants from changing employer or returning home," she said.   Continued...

Labourers, who are working on the Qatar 2022 World Cup project, arrive at their accommodation in Doha March 3, 2014.   REUTERS/Stringer