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World Human Rights Day

Whether you believe the Guardian, FIFA, or other conflicting sources - migrant worker death numbers in the run-up to the 2022 Qatar World Cup were somewhere between several thousand - or just three.

With the UN's Human Rights Day falling on Saturday 10 December and claims of 'sportwashing' being levelled at tournament hosts and organisers, how culpable is the construction industry?

Anecdotally, there have been numerous claims of workers being forced to work for too long, or in debilitating temperatures, or without safety equipment and clothing.

These clear violations are abuses by any measure and inevitably lead in some cases to health problems, injuries or even deaths.

'Dignity, freedom and justice for all'

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is one of the world's most translated documents and includes the tenets:

'[Everyone] has the right to just and favourable conditions of work and protection against unemployment.
Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.'

So far, so clear - failing to provide fair hours, workload and pay constitutes an abuse of human rights, whether you're building a brick wall or a World Cup Stadium.

But where it gets trickier for stats compilers is when it comes to classification of accidents, illnesses and deaths.

If someone is injured by a piece of equipment because they didn't have the proper training, is that an abuse?

When someone falls from height because they were cutting corners to meet a deadline, is the pressure that was put on them an abuse?

As surveying professionals, we CICES members are well aware of the importance of data and how it is interpreted.

So perhaps the problem isn't simply not knowing the exact numbers of human rights abuses that took place on Qatar construction sites.

Maybe it's the inconsistency and lack of transparency when it comes to recording and reporting such instances.

What is UK construction doing? 

It's easy for lazy commentators to claim that such lax processes with tragic consequences are a 'foreign' problem - but it's also wildly inaccurate.  

Designers of the tournament's stadia include world-renowned (and UK based) practices such as Foster & Partners and Zaha Hadid Architects.

And while their involvement in no way equates to abuse of human rights, the association of any firm in the design/construction sphere has been made more complex by the global disquiet.

The Hyundais and Coca Colas can drown out dissenters by trumpeting their 'official sponsor' status, supporting the wonderful festival of football.

But to address the issue in a meaningful way, constructors are working to put processes in place that protect the wellbeing of people that work for them.

  • Balfour Beatty's 'Zero Harm' vision states: Our long-term success is dependent upon the ability to keep our workforce, business partners, suppliers, subcontractors, members of the public and the environment safe. Nothing we do is so important that it cannot be done safely.
  • Galliford Try’s ‘Challenging Beliefs, Affecting Behaviour’ programme has been in place over ten years and is continually refined towards an aspiration of ‘no harm’, underpinned by a culture of care.
  • Costain’s ‘Responsible Business Commitments’ include a specific 2030 goal to be ‘recognised as a champion for human rights’.

And virtually all firms of note will have as a bare minimum a Modern Slavery Transparency statement on their website.

What about CICES?

CICES president, Dr Andrew Evans commented:

'As a predominately UK focussed institution, we may take for granted that UK health & safety and employment laws are very supportive of human rights. 

'And as guardians of data, it’s easy to talk about “the facts”.

'But care for our workforce should be a no-brainer for an industry relying on their skills.

'The worst possible outcomes are construction related deaths which, by definition, occur on construction sites. 

'Some of those will be of natural causes and some will be accidents that warrant investigation and compensation and mitigation - but it's wrong to dismiss related deaths of workers because they didn’t happen on site.

'As a global organisation, we need to be a voice for all construction workers and the duties of their employers in relation to human rights.”

Available resources

As a CICES member, you have access to a number of resources that can support your own ongoing development as a protector of human rights.

Our Security awareness policy has been created to help you identify and address potential sources of harm to people working in, or alongside your organisation.

The EDI policy exists to offer protections against discrimination on the basis of race, nationality, gender identity, sexuality or capability.

And the Whistleblowing policy provides guidance on how to report any occurrences of violations in a professional and legally sound manner.

If you have any questions about CICES stance on Human Rights, please contact us.

Learn more about Human Rights Day and the Declaration of Human Rights via the UN website.

Published: 08 December 2022