News

Business and human rights in Saudi Arabia

Guidance for businesses operating in Saudi Arabia

FairSquare has collaborated with Amnesty International on the production of new guidance for businesses operating in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia has been seeking support from international investors and businesses to help deliver its flagship Vision 2030, with its expansive development plans capped by a set of “giga-projects” designed to spearhead the development of whole new economic sectors.

The Amnesty briefing highlights six of the most salient human rights risks for companies to consider in Saudi Arabia, given the possibility of one or more of them intersecting with their business operations, activities or investments:

– the abuse of migrant worker rights;
– discrimination against women;
– risks linked to surveillance, data gathering and “smart cities”;
– risks linked to land, housing and development projects;
– risks to business partners; and
– war crimes in the conflict in Yemen.

Read More

Close

New FairSquare Policy Brief on migrant workers in Saudi Arabia

New Policy Brief on migrant workers in Saudi Arabia

Credit: Alamy

In a new policy brief released this month, FairSquare finds that the issue of migrant worker rights is likely to become ever more salient for the Saudi Arabian government in coming years.

With hundreds of thousands of migrants needed to construct the giga-projects that sit at the heart of the Crown Prince’s Vision 2030 strategic plan, international attention on this issue is certain to increase in the coming years. Until now migrant workers’ rights have rarely been given prominence, as external focus on the country has mainly centred around freedom of expression, women’s rights and the death penalty. Now flagship projects like Neom, the Red Sea Project and the leisure city of Qiddiya are likely to change all that.

FairSquare’s policy brief, the first in an occasional series, charts the inextricable links between Saudi Arabia’s continued struggle to find meaningful employment for its growing population of citizens and its historic reliance on migrants to staff the private sector. The kafala system, which holds migrants In a restrictive, abusive bind at the hands of their employers, has played an important role in creating and sustaining Saudi national identity, providing a constant demonstration of the enhanced status and standing of citizens as against foreigners. In parallel, businesses have developed a reliance on (an “addiction” to, some say)  migrants and the cheap convenience the kafala system guarantees.

Simply replacing migrants in the private sector with Saudis is unlikely to be feasible in the short term – in many sectors, there is still little overlap between work migrants are doing and the jobs that Saudis are qualified and willing to do. Nevertheless intensified Saudization in the past decade has meant a reduction in the number of migrant workers in the country, a trend sharpened by Covid-19. Such departures have routinely been enforced, accompanied by high levels of brutality, and migrants have increasingly been demonised in the Saudi media.

Ultimately, rather than relying on mass repatriations, the government will need to improve conditions for all workers in the private sector if it wants to entice more Saudis into the workforce and attract the skilled migrants it wants to help it deliver Vision 2030. That – combined with learnings from Qatar, which has come under intense scrutiny over migrant labour conditions and embarked on a reform programme in partnership with the ILO – may explain the government’s deepening engagement with international labour institutions, and rumblings throughout 2020 about the abolition of kafala. Just yesterday, a local newspaper repeated predictions that the government was set to abolish kafala, while the government is set to hold a press conference next week in which it will outline reforms to “increase the competitiveness, attractiveness and flexibility of the Saudi labor market in accordance with international standards”.

Read More

Close

FairSquare on Qatar’s labour reforms

Implementation the key for Qatar’s migrant labour reform

Credit: Omar Chatriwala

In an article written for Migrant-Rights.org, FairSquare director James Lynch has called on Qatar to accompany its reformed kafala (sponsorship) law with simple procedures and effective enforcement:

“This appears to be a significant step forward and goes beyond what any other Gulf country has attempted in terms of introducing labour mobility for migrant workers.  If (and only if) this change is accompanied by simple procedures for workers to follow and rigorous enforcement, it will make a tangible difference to workers’ rights. It will also be in the interest of responsible businesses. Employers that respect their employees’ rights and pay decent wages should start to gain a competitive advantage.”

FairSquare additionally stresses that workers’ rights don’t begin and end with kafala and urges the government to follow up this reform with measures on wage theft and working conditions, to protect the rights and safety of migrant workers.

Read More

Close

Premier League: Adopt Human Rights Policy

Premier League: Adopt Human Rights Policy

Credit: J. Pellgen

The English Premier League should respect human rights throughout all of its operations, including as it evaluates a bid by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund to acquire Newcastle United FC, Human Rights Watch and FairSquare Projects said today. The Premier League and the Football Association should consider adopting a comprehensive human rights policy in line with the policy put in place by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) in 2017.

Human Rights Watch, in June 2020, and FairSquare, in April, separately wrote to the Premier League CEO, Richard Masters, outlining concerns around the prospective purchase by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. The Premier League’s short responses, which contained identical language, failed to engage with the concerns raised about whether the buyer met the league’s own tests for prospective owners. The league also did not say whether it was taking Saudi Arabia’s human rights record into account when considering the sale, stating only that the sale to a “company based in Saudi Arabia” was subject to due processes that “cannot be conducted in public and on which we cannot comment.”

“The Premier League shouldn’t leave FIFA’s human rights policy to one side and ignore Saudi human rights abuses as it considers the sale of one of its clubs to the country’s sovereign wealth fund,” said Benjamin Ward, United Kingdom director at Human Rights Watch. “Adopting a comprehensive human rights policy and including human rights as a criterion for evaluating potential buyers of football clubs would set a positive example.”

On July 6, the United Kingdom introduced a new global human rights sanctions regime which included asset freezes and travel bans for 20 Saudi men connected to the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018. Those designated include Saud al-Qahtani, a former close adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is chairman of the Saudi Public Investment Fund.

The Saudi fund made its bid to acquire Newcastle United in January, but the Premier League has been considering the sale since then. On June 30, Masters appeared before the UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee and said the potential sale was “complicated,” adding that, “when [approval processes] drag on sometimes there is a requirement for information.” It is unclear what information Masters was referencing.

Saudi Arabia has faced unprecedented scrutiny over its human rights abuses since Mohammed bin Salman became crown prince in June 2017. A November 2019 Human Rights Watch report “The High Cost of Change: Repression under Saudi Crown Prince Tarnishes Reform” documented how Mohammed bin Salman’s elevation to crown prince coincided with a reorganization of the country’s prosecution service and security apparatus, the primary tools of Saudi repression, placing them directly under the royal court’s oversight.

The Saudi authorities then began a series of arrest campaigns targeting independent clerics, public intellectuals, and prominent women’s rights activists. Women’s rights activists and others targeted have reported that the authorities tortured them in detention. Saudi Arabia is a UK Foreign Office priority country because of its poor human rights record.

In June 2019, Agnes Callamard, the United Nations special rapporteur for extrajudicial executions, released the findings of her investigation into the Khashoggi killing. Callamard found evidence that responsibility for Khashoggi’s murder extends beyond the 11 people tried for the murder in Saudi Arabia, and that the mission to execute Khashoggi required “significant government coordination, resources, and finances.” The special rapporteur determined that there is credible evidence warranting further investigation of high-level Saudi officials, including Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, for their role in the murder.

The crown prince also has served as Saudi Arabia’s defense minister since 2015, and since March 2015, Human Rights Watch has documented unlawful airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen that have bombed homes, markets, hospitals, schools, and mosques. Some of these attacks may amount to war crimes. In November 2018, during Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Buenos Aires for the G20 Summit, the Argentine judiciary took steps to formally investigate his possible responsibility for war crimes in Yemen and alleged torture of Saudi citizens.

The Premier League already has a responsibility to respect human rights throughout all of its operations. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights sets out these responsibilities, including the expectation that businesses will adopt specific policies and conduct due diligence to identify any risks of contributing to human rights harms. Such harm may include conferring reputational benefits that help cover up human rights abuses. The Premier League’s current handbook does not include human rights under its “owners and directors test,” even though ownership of prominent football clubs by state entities or individuals close to state leaders is on the rise throughout Europe.

Under pressure from activists, fans, and sponsors, in 2017, FIFA amended its statutes, setting up a Human Rights Advisory Board and adopting a landmark Human Rights Policy that states “Human rights commitments are binding on all FIFA bodies and officials.” The new policy mandates that bidders to host FIFA events must map all human rights risks and provide a strategy to address them. It states that FIFA will embed respect for human rights in its member associations.

“The drawn-out saga of the Newcastle takeover bid has exposed the inadequacies of the Premier League’s current arrangements for assessing and managing human rights risks” said James Lynch, founding director of FairSquare. “A rigorous policy, drafted in good faith and with full institutional support for implementation, would go a long way to protecting the league in future.”

Read More

Close

Premier League should reject Saudi-led takeover of Newcastle FC

Call to disqualify proposed Saudi-led takeover of Newcastle United FC

Credit: POMED

The Saudi-backed bid to take over Newcastle United FC should not be allowed to proceed, FairSquare has told the Premier League. In a letter to the League’s Chief Executive, the organisation argues that the conduct of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince – including in relation to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 – should be enough to disqualify the bid:

“Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, the chairman of the Public Investment Fund, presents a demonstrable threat to the vitality, integrity and reputation of the English game and to the future of Newcastle United. We would encourage the Premier League to take this opportunity to outline a clear position in this regard, and one that prevents governments from taking control of English football clubs and running them for political ends.”

FairSquare finds that the Newcastle takeover bid fails the Premier League Owner and Director test on two grounds: under paragraph F1.6 in relation to the conduct of Mohamed bin Salman; and secondly under paragraph F1.2, with regard to Newcastle’s relationship with Sheffield United FC, in relation to the “power to determine or influence the management or administration of another Club.”

The human rights organisation has encouraged the Premier League to consult with UN experts, including those who investigated the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and has offered to arrange a a private briefing from credible independent experts, including Saudi Arabian nationals.

Read More

Close More

Covid-19 and migrant workers in the Gulf

NGO coalition calls on Gulf states to ensure protection of migrant workers during Covid-19 response

Credit: International Domestic Workers Federation

A coalition of trade unions and NGOs, including FairSquare Projects, has called on the Gulf states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to take steps to ensure that migrant workers receive adequate protection from Covid-19.

The groups are urging the Gulf governments to:
– Ensure equal access to testing and medical assistance for all workers, and to ensure that worker are not deterred from seeking assistance from fear of detention of deportation.
– Ensure sanctions imposed for violating quarantines do not include detention.
– Where possible, to seek input from national and sectoral trade unions; ensure that workers who are prevented from working continue to receive their wages and have an adequate standard of living. This includes monitoring businesses to ensure working conditions are safe and that businesses are implementing guidelines and requirements.
– Carry out public awareness-raising campaigns to ensure that workers, including domestic workers, do not face discrimination or stigma as a result of the pandemic.
– Ensure domestic workers are provided with access to timely and adequate healthcare, sick pay and protective equipment.

The call follows reports of a spike in cases of Covid-19 among migrant workers to the Gulf, largely attributed to poor and cramped living conditions, and a lack of adequate protective equipment. 

Read More

Close

FairSquare to take part in Toronto Quayside preliminary HRIA

FairSquare to take part in Toronto Quayside preliminary HRIA

FairSquare Research has been selected, as part of a consortium, to carry out the preliminary human rights impact assessment of Quayside Project in Toronto. Element AI, a Montreal-based artificial intelligence company, is leading the consortium, which also includes Ravi Naik, a respected litigation and subject matter expert in privacy, data protection and human rights. The preliminary human rights impact assessment has been commissioned by Waterfront Toronto.

Read More

Close

Liverpool FC and worker deaths in Qatar

Liverpool FC backs FairSquare call for investigations into worker deaths in Qatar

Credit: The Workers Cup film

Liverpool Football Club have supported calls by FairSquare for thorough investigations into the deaths of migrant workers in Qatar. In a letter to FairSquare, ahead of Liverpool’s appearance at the Club World Cup in Qatar, the club’s Chief Executive said:

“Like any responsible organisation, we support your assertion that any and all unexplained deaths should be investigated thoroughly and that bereaved families should receive the justice they deserve.”

FairSquare had written to Liverpool in November raising serious concerns about the hundreds of migrant workers who die every year in Qatar, with new evidence linking their deaths to heat stress. Liverpool also told FairSquare the club has sought assurances from the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, which is organising the tournament and the 2022 World Cup, about the progress of investigations into the deaths of two men who had been working on the construction of football stadiums.
 
Nick McGeehan, director of FairSquare, has welcomed Liverpool’s intervention:

“In their detailed expression of support for investigations into worker deaths and compensation for families, Liverpool have demonstrated more clarity of thought than Fifa and all of their sponsors put together.”

Read More

Close

Launch of the Five Corridors Project

FairSquare launches fair recruitment research project

In partnership with Open Societies Foundation and Humanity United, FairSquare Projects is embarking on a major research project on the fair recruitment of migrant workers.

The Five Corridors Project aims to enhance understanding of how governments can strengthen regulatory and enforcement mechanisms to address abusive and fraudulent recruitment practices, resulting in more positive outcomes for workers.

FairSquare is studying the recruitment of migrant workers in five corridors, selected because of the presence of expressed government commitments to reform, opportunities to build on private sector-led initiatives, or civil society organizations who may be in a position to make use of the research:

– Myanmar to Thailand 
– Nepal to Kuwait 
– Nepal to Qatar
– Philippines to Taiwan 
– Mexico to Canada

The study will focus on the role of governments, which play an essential part in ensuring ethical recruitment. There are extensive regulatory frameworks in many countries, but many fail to stamp out the abusive treatment migrants so often face. In comparison to the practical guidance that has been produced in recent years for global companies on steps to recruit ethically, less research has been done with the aim of galvanizing action by governments to address recruitment-related abuses.

Read More

Close