The rapid growth of the construction sector has attracted large engineering and construction firms, a broad range of multinational and local subcontractors, and millions of low-skilled migrant workers to regions that often have weak local regulation on human rights issues. Workers in these regions are vulnerable to a host of labor and human rights violations, including forced labor, poor working and living conditions, debt bondage, and restrictions on worker representation and association—issues that are not easily solved.
Additionally, this sector faces unique challenges in its efforts to address these human rights concerns, including the decentralized nature of companies’ operations; the short-term nature of projects; industry interconnections (companies are clients of each other); multi-tiered supply chains; and the complexity of relationships with public-sector clients, who are also legislators and regulators where they do business.
For these reasons, Building Responsibly—a business coalition of leading engineering and construction companies working together to raise the bar in promoting the rights and welfare of workers across the industry—has developed a set of Worker Welfare Principles that establish a common, global baseline for the treatment of workers in the engineering and construction industry.
On June 21, Building Responsibly launched these Principles with its founding members, who include Bechtel, Fluor, Multiplex, Vinci, and Wood. Together, Building Responsibly members employ more than 400,000 people and operate in more than 100 countries. The Principles were developed in consultation with a diverse set of public, private, and civil society stakeholders.
James Walker, group head of ethics and compliance, Wood, and vice-chair of Building Responsibly, told us, “These Principles represent the first major output of our collaboration through Building Responsibly and establish a model others may adopt as they seek to engage with these challenges and issues. Authored by businesses in consultation with external stakeholders, the Principles are rooted in international human rights standards and responsive to diverse global business contexts, ensuring that they are both ambitious and achievable.” He added, “We look forward to ongoing collaboration with workers, clients, business partners, civil society, and others to encourage widespread adoption of these Principles and good practices across the industry.”
Through the 10 Principles, companies commit to ensuring that:
- Workers are treated with dignity, respect, and fairness.
- Workers are free from forced, trafficked, and child labor.
- Recruitment practices are ethical, legal, voluntary, and free from discrimination.
- Freedom to change employment is respected.
- Working conditions are safe and healthy.
- Living conditions are safe, clean, and habitable.
- Access to documentation and mobility is unrestricted.
- Wage and benefit agreements are respected.
- Worker representation is respected.
- Grievance mechanisms and access to remedy are readily available.
Companies will work to implement the Principles by:
- Ensuring commitment from leadership;
- Managing oversight of contractors and supply chains;
- Providing training to leadership, employees, and workers;
- Enabling transparent reporting of incidents and concerns; and
- Engaging with other industry members and all affected stakeholders.
While Building Responsibly is proud to achieve this milestone, the initiative intends to use the Principles to further shape industry practices by developing detailed guidance notes and tools to support companies’ implementation of the Principles. It also plans to, in collaboration with stakeholders, create a roadmap for solutions that improve the rights and welfare of workers in the industry.