PARIS (TBEN) — A subsidiary of French construction company Vinci has been charged Wednesday with forced labor and other alleged violations of the rights of migrant workers hired to build infrastructure in Qatar around the World Cup.
The company denies the allegations and is appealing, accusing magistrates of hastening the decision ahead of the tournament’s opening on Nov. 20.
But a human rights group behind the first legal complaint against Vinci seven years ago hailed Wednesday’s move as a breakthrough, after lengthy efforts to hold the company accountable for the alleged abuses.
In the run-up to the World Cup, Qatar was criticized for its labor laws and its treatment of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers, mostly from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and other South Asian countries.
Vinci subsidiary Vinci Construction Grands Projets was charged with preliminary charges for employing multiple people through forced labor; subjecting workers to conditions and housing incompatible with human dignity; and obtaining services from people who were vulnerable or in a situation of dependency, according to a court official and French advocacy group Sherpa.
Sherpa filed the original complaint in 2015, along with several former employees.
Sherpa said it was collecting testimonials about working conditions at some construction sites managed by Vinci’s subsidiary, including working in temperatures above 45 C (113 F) with insufficient water, withholding passports and lack of access to showers in accommodations.
The charges are “a strong signal to these economic players who are taking advantage of modern slavery,” Sherpa president Sandra Cossart told The The Bharat Express News. “We hope it gets things moving.”
Vinci said earlier this week that his representatives were being summoned by investigating magistrates to face possible charges in the case.
The Vinci daughter’s lawyer, Jean-Pierre Versini-Campinchi, responded to the allegations on Wednesday, saying on France-Info radio that the company will try to have the decision overturned.
He denounced what he called “the insufficient time frame given to lawyers to provide useful answers, and the hasty choice of date (for the subpoena) just a few days before the opening of the World Cup.”
Vinci said on Monday that none of the projects awarded to its Qatari unit QDVC were related to the World Cup, and that it is committed to improving “the living and working conditions of all workers at its construction sites, around the world.” .”
The construction group has been working on some of the infrastructure that will be used during the World Cup, including the Doha metro linking the airport to the historic city center, and the Lusail light-rail transit system transportation network.
The bailiff said the preliminary charges relate to work related to the World Cup. The officer was not authorized to be named publicly in connection with an ongoing investigation.
Preliminary charges under French law mean there is reason to suspect a crime has been committed, but give magistrates more time to investigate before deciding whether to go to trial.
TBEN World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports