BESIX was first active in Qatar in the 1960s and 1970s. After a short hiatus, BESIX restarted its construction activities in Qatar in the 1990s. Since then, BESIX has built major port, road and airport infrastructure, complex buildings, and skyscrapers. As is common in the Middle East, the group's workers in Qatar are mostly migrant workers. BESIX's policies on respecting and promoting their rights are largely detailed here. Often cited as an example to follow in respecting and promoting migrant workers’ rights in the Middle East, BESIX Group is committed to remain a constructive force in this field and to making a concrete contribution to social progress.
BESIX’s collaboration in the region
From 2014 to 2019, in preparation for the World Cup, the group renovated the Khalifa Stadium and designed and built the Al Janoub Stadium. BESIX has always acted with transparency and actively collaborated with the Qatari authorities, NGOs, and trade unions, notably the Building and Woodworkers International (BWI), a federation of 351 trade unions from 127 different countries, and its Belgian members, the FGTB-ABVV and CSC-ACV. They help us to ensure that the working conditions are up to par.
In 2017 this close collaboration with the unions led to the signing of an international framework agreement between the BWI, BESIX and the group's European Works Council, which only three other companies in the Middle East have done. This agreement has enabled BWI to independently audit all the group's sites, in Qatar but also elsewhere in the world. This has enabled BESIX to demonstrate its good practices and, above all, to be part of a continuous improvement process. Similarly, BESIX has collaborated with the Qatari authorities, actively contributing to the initiatives and implementation of the new regulations put in place by the country.
In addition, the group has sought to disseminate its good practice, including by requiring its subcontractors to provide documentation to show that they meet high standards in a range of areas. Where non-compliance is found, the group has a range of possible actions, with the priority being to help the companies concerned to improve before taking financial or contractual measures.
These commitments have proven their relevance and, in recent years, leading personalities from international organizations have publicly cited BESIX Group as a benchmark in promoting worker welfare in the Middle East. These include the former Chairman of the Governing Body of the International Labour Organization (ILO), the director of Amnesty Belgium, and the General Secretary of the BWI.
Proactive policies continue today. For example, in early 2022, BESIX Group and the trade unions FGTB-ABVV and CSC-ACV officially called on the Belgian State to support the recognition by the ILO of occupational health and safety as a fundamental right of workers. Since June 2022, the ILO has amended its Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work to include “a safe and healthy working environment” as a fundamental principle and right at work.
Health & Safety on BESIX’s World Cup construction sites
During the construction of its two football stadiums, the group experienced a total of three fatalities between 2014 and 2019, two of which involved migrant workers. Here too, the group acted in full transparency and actively collaborated , both with the relevant Qatari authorities and with international organizations involved. A death is always a human tragedy. Safety is a priority for BESIX Group, its policy being to put in place strict and high-level policies, similar on all its sites around the world. This is now widely recognized, notably by the BWI, whose Secretary General recently stated in the Belgian media that BESIX's security policies in the Middle East are equal to those in Western Europe.
About boycotting the World Cup
BESIX Group is not in favour of a boycott of the FIFA World Cup that is held in Qatar from 21 November to 18 December 2022. In this respect, the Group joins the position defended by the United Nations’ ILO, the BWI, and the Belgian trade unions FGTB-ABVV and CSC-ACV, the Royal Belgian Football Association, among others.
BESIX Group encourages the continuation of the efforts that have been put in place and is determined to continue to work hand in hand with the Qatari authorities, international organisations, and trade unions, while encouraging its subcontractors to adopt quality practices that respect the new Qatari legislation.
From BESIX Group's point of view, the 2022 World Cup could set a historic precedent in terms of respect for workers' rights, which all the above-mentioned stakeholders seem to share. Big strides have been taken since the start of construction works for the World Cup to improve workers rights. The group is committed to continue to play its role as a large company to this end.
About legislative reforms in Qatar
The BWI has chosen to address the improvement of working and living conditions of workers through constructive collaboration with the ILO, local authorities, and European companies, including BESIX.
The ILO website provides an overview of the recent reforms in the country’s labour law. Reforms include the introduction of a non-discriminatory minimum wage and wage protection, improved access to justice and a complaints mechanism, the establishment of workers' representatives and joint employer-worker committees, greater protection to workers from heat stress with a ban on working between 10 a.m. and 3.30 p.m. from 1 June to 15 September and at any time when temperature exceeds 32.1°, and the freedom to leave the country and freely change employers.
BESIX clearly stands for a constructive approach. The company has been operating in Qatar for several decades. BESIX’s experience in the region has shown that the ideal way to have a positive impact is to work hand in hand with the public authorities and involved organisations. This is what BESIX does in Qatar, with the local authorities, with NGOs and with the BWI.
In the Belgian media, on several occasions, the president of Amnesty Belgium, the former president of the ILO Governing Body and the BWI have presented BESIX as the example to follow in terms of respecting the rights of migrant workers in the Middle East. This is how BESIX wants to keep acting: by applying high standards, similar to the Belgian ones, and by pushing its partners and subcontractors to apply them in turn.