A subsidiary of French construction firm Vinci was placed under formal investigation Wednesday over allegations of abusive working conditions on building sites in Qatar linked to the 2022 FIFA World Cup, a spokeswoman with the Nanterre prosecutor’s office told CNN Thursday.
A lawyer for Vinci Construction Grands Projets rejected the accusations from a French investigative judge, which according to the prosecutor’s office include “labor conditions incompatible with human dignity,” also “holding people in servitude” and “obtaining services from people who were vulnerable or in a situation of dependence.”
A formal investigation is a step below being charged with a crime in the French criminal justice system.
Under French law, this means there is serious or consistent evidence that points to probable involvement in a crime, but investigations can be dropped without proceeding to court.
Two French human rights groups, Sherpa and the Committee Against Modern Slavery (CCEM), are behind the legal complaint filed in 2019.
An initial complaint filed by Sherpa against the company in 2015 was dismissed in 2018, according to a statement released by the group.
“There are a lot more elements, so the judge decided there’s now enough for an investigation into Vinci,” Sherpa’s lawyer, Ingrid Metton, told CNN Thursday.
“I am thrilled with this decision … it would have been very wrong for this World Cup to go ahead without pushing this investigation forward,” Metton added.
Sherpa said it collected testimonies in 2014 about the working conditions on some of the construction sites linked to the World Cup and operated by Vinci’s Qatari subsidiary.
Those testimonies included allegations of “working in the heat over 113 degrees (45°C) with insufficient water or shade, the withholding of passports, having to pay significant sums of money to recruitment agencies, fainting and insufficient access to showers in accommodations.”
Vinci’s lawyer told CNN Thursday the group would ask for the magistrate’s decision to be annulled.
“We were given 15 days to prepare for the summons and it’s impossible to retrieve all the documents we would need from Qatar in that time frame, especially a few days before the tournament is due to kick off,” Jean-Pierre Versini-Campinchi said.
“They (Sherpa) have been working on this for the last seven years and I believe their case is still incredibly weak, there’s nothing there,” Versini-Campinchi added.
Qatar will host the World Cup from November 20 until December 18.
Following the awarding of the right to host the World Cup over a decade ago, the 2022 event has been dogged by controversy and Qatar has been strongly criticized due to the human rights situation in the Gulf state and the treatment of foreign workers.