Over in Brazil, the World Cup is already in full swing along with a number of shocking referee decisions and surprising scores. Whether the rest of the event happens smoothly remains to be seen, but almost certainly all will glitter, or at least from the spectators’ seats. As has been the case in so many international sporting competitions, any social schism, any riots over rising taxes, growing wealth inequality, or systematic human rights abuses, not to mention the ongoing debate of whether the significant investment pays off, are likely to be swept right under the carpet.
By and large, we are all guilty of being taken in by the hype but perhaps I am being a little ‘black or white’ over the matter. From Beijing to Sochi, and South Africa to Brazil, in the name of good journalism token news stories will touch upon the dark underbelly of such events.
But building begins long before the buildup. Construction of stadiums and other infrastructure starts years before an event.
There is a reason why the construction sector has been a leader in developing safety certification schemes or robust procurement practices: it is rife with sustainability red flags. Broadly speaking the issues fall under three categories: environmental impacts, exploited or underpaid labour, and, of course, health and safety risks. In many parts of the world, these concerns continue to be unaddressed. Deadlines, corruption or appearances might even mean dangerous corners are cut –the Commonwealth Games in India 2010 spring to mind.
Earlier this year I wrote a series on promoting good OSH practices in the supply chain and I thought it timely to continue on this theme before World Cup fever fades.
Truth be told, things are changing when it comes to transparency and accountability –even in the world of large-scale sporting events. Just look at FIFA and Qatar and how the decision to host the World Cup there all the way in 2022 has already come under scrutiny by the media. Fatalities in construction (the Qatar government admits to almost 1000) have led to closer attention being paid regarding the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar.
In response to global revelations of substandard working and living conditions for migrant workers, Qatar commissioned DLA Piper to produce a report looking into the matter. The outcome published in May 2014 calls for major reforms to the kafala system, the sponsorship system used to monitor the construction and domestic migrant laborers in the region. It makes 62 recommendations across nine areas, including health and safety.
The report establishes a range of practical measures to improve health and safety including:
• contractors that breach standards to be blacklisted
• introduction of stronger criminal sanctions, including joint liability for contractors, often large western firms, and their sub-contractors.
• introduction of electronic ID cards and health and safety education
• the regular collection and reporting of statistics regarding work related injuries and deaths, to be published anonymously every six months, as part of a series of steps to establish how many workers die on construction sites
• for an independent study to be carried out to look into sudden cardiac arrests over the next three years given the unusually high level of heart attacks
• for there to be a proper investigation into unexpected or sudden deaths
Progress started happening prior to this Qatar state-sponsored dossier, namely in terms of development projects specifically for the World Cup in 2022. The Qatar Supreme Committee’s Workers Charter published in early 2014 was one response to concerns over the plight of workers in the region. It requires that any company wanting to bid on the construction of any of its Qatar World Cup construction projects will have to comply with the requirements of the Workers Charter and demonstrate how they are going to implement its requirements. Key to the ability to submit any tender is a Workers’ Charter Plan which includes requirements that the bidding company will ensure that they work with accredited recruitment agencies and that working and living conditions meet certain requirements, including the adherence to certain health and safety standards. This constitutes a step forward but only applies to companies tendering and not the broader construction industry – it would be interesting to see if the outcome of the most recent report will change this limitation.
Moreover, whether tenders are won in an uncorrupt fashion and whether these requirements are enforced in practice as build up towards the 2022 event continues remains yet to be seen.
Bringing it back to Brazil – we also can’t ignore the health and safety and other social disquiet that continues to hang over this World Cup, the most recent construction death having been reported only a couple of days ago. (See here)
What is evident is the growing opportunities for the valuable input from the health and safety profession in procurement and recruitment, particularly in the emerging market context.
In the meantime, for the fans, the long awaited Brazil World Cup is finally upon us and will be over before we know it – so let’s enjoy.