PARIS (AP) – A subsidiary of French construction company Vinci was charged on Wednesday with forced labor and other alleged violations of the rights of migrant workers hired to build infrastructure in Qatar around Qatar World Championship.
The company denies the allegations and is appealing, accusing the judges of rushing the decision before the tournament opened on November 20.
But a human rights group behind the first lawsuit 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 came under scrutiny over its labor laws and the 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 provisionally charged with having held several people in bondage through forced labour; to subject workers to conditions and housing incompatible with human dignity; and use of services by people who were vulnerable or in a dependent situation, according to a justice official and 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 Vinci’s subsidiary, including working in temperatures exceeding 45 °C (113 °F) with insufficient water, passports being withheld and lack of access to showers in accommodation.
The charges are “a strong signal for these economic actors who benefit from modern slavery,” Sherpa President Sandra Cossart told The Associated Press. “We hope it will make a difference.”
Vinci said earlier this week that his representatives would be summoned by investigating judges to face possible charges in the case.
In response to the allegations, Jean-Pierre Versini-Campinchi, lawyer for the Vinci subsidiary, said on France-Info radio station on Wednesday that the company would try to overturn the decision.
He criticized what he denounced “the insufficient time frame given to the lawyers to provide useful answers and the hasty choice of date (for the subpoena) just days before the opening of the soccer 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 “the living and working conditions of all workers on its construction sites around the world.” to enhance.
The group has been working on some of the infrastructure that will be used during the World Cup, including the Doha Metro, which connects the airport to the historic city center and the Lusail light rail transport network.
The magistrate said the preliminary charges related to World Cup-related work. The official was not authorized to be named publicly to discuss an ongoing investigation.
Preliminary charges under French law mean there is reason to believe a crime has been committed, but gives judges more time to investigate before deciding whether to go to trial.
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