Vinci unit to face French judge on Nov. 9 over labour conditions in Qatar
PARIS (Reuters) -French construction group Vinci said on Monday one of its units will face an investigating judge in Paris on Wednesday to answer charges that it violated the rights of migrant workers helping to build stadiums for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Vinci has repeatedly denied the claims by Paris-based human rights group Sherpa which in 2015 filed a complaint in a court in Nanterre, a suburb of Paris, against Vinci's Construction Grand Projects division and the managers of its 49%-owned Qatari unit QDVC for "forced labour" and "keeping people in servitude".
That complaint was dismissed in January 2018.
In March 2019, Sherpa and another NGO, the committee against modern slavery (CCEM), alongside six former Indian and Nepalese QDVC workers, filed a new complaint against Vinci as civil claimants that Reuters reviewed. Later on, five more plaintiffs joined the complaint, according to Sherpa.
In the complaint, NGOs and former workers accuse the company of making migrant workers work 11 hours shifts six days per week, longer than Qatari law allows, in dire conditions and at high risk for their personal health, for wages equivalent to 2% of Qatar's average salary.
"It was too much work," read a testimony from a Nepalese man who worked for the company between May 2015 and January 2016. "I was very tired all the time."
Another man who worked as a security guard from October 2012 to January 2014 testified there was no air conditioning in the rooms he worked in, despite heat stress risks that can lead to heart conditions in the hot Qatari weather.
"And I was in open areas, so it was not safe and always so hot," he said in the testimony.
Vinci said in a statement on Monday that it was "extremely regrettable" that despite the proceedings having started seven years ago, its subsidiary should face charges just before the start of the World Cup in Qatar.
"None of the projects awarded to QDVC has any connection with the 2022 Football World Cup in Qatar. In fact these projects were entrusted to QDVC before the competition was awarded to Qatar and mainly relate to transport infrastructures," it said.
"Vinci did not sign any contract with the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, and has not built any stadium or hotel in Qatar," it added.
It said it would continue to cooperate with the courts "with the objective to show that the allegations made against the group are unfair".
Vinci shares were down 2% at 93.99 euros by 0759 GMT.
QDVC is owned at 51% by Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company, which is itself owned by the Qatar Investment Authority, the sovereign wealth fund of the Qatar state.
(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon and Juliette Jabkhiro;Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Emelia Sithole-Matarise and David Evans)