French company charged with forced labor in Qatar

PARIS — A subsidiary of the French construction company Vinci was indicted on Wednesday for 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 charges and is appealing, and accused magistrates of rushing the decision before the tournament opened on November 20.

But a human rights group behind the original complaint against Vinci seven years ago hailed Wednesday’s ruling as a breakthrough, after long efforts to hold the company accountable for alleged abuses.

Prior to the World Cup, Qatar came under scrutiny for its labor laws and treatment of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers, mostly from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and other South Asian countries.

Vinci’s subsidiary, Vinci Construction Grands Projets, was charged with holding several people in servitude through forced labor; subjecting workers to conditions and housing incompatible with human dignity; and obtaining services from vulnerable or dependent people, according to a legal official and the French advocacy group Sherpa.

Sherpa filed the original complaint in 2015, along with several former workers.

Sherpa said it collected testimony about working conditions at some construction sites operated by the Vinci subsidiary, including working at temperatures above 45°C (113°F) with insufficient water, retention of passports and the lack of access to showers in the accommodation.

These accusations are “a strong signal for these economic actors who profit from modern slavery,” Sherpa President Sandra Cossart told The Associated Press. “We hope that will shake things up.”

Vinci said earlier this week that his representatives were being summoned by investigative judges to face possible charges in the case.

Reacting to the accusations on Wednesday, the lawyer for the Vinci subsidiary, Jean-Pierre Versini-Campinchi, told France-Info radio that the company would seek to have the decision overturned.

He denounced what he called “the insufficient time given to lawyers to provide useful answers, and the hasty choice of the date (of summons), only a few days before the opening of the Football World Cup” .

Vinci said on Monday that none of the projects awarded to its Qatari unit QDVC had any connection to the World Cup and that it was committed to improving “the living and working conditions of all workers on 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 transportation network of the Lusail light rail transit system.

The judicial official said the preliminary charges relate to work carried out in connection with the World Cup. The official was not authorized to be named publicly to discuss an ongoing investigation.

Preliminary charges under French law mean there are grounds to suspect a crime has been committed, but gives magistrates more time to investigate before deciding whether to take the case to trial.


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