FIFA awarded rights to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup to Qatar. To build the required infrastructure, thousands of foreign labourers were emigrated from various parts of the world. At least 1200 labourers’ lives have been lost due to extremely poor working and living conditions. The question we now face, is whether Arup, an engineering company involved in this project, should hold themselves responsible for the unethical treatment of these labourers.
Arup should claim responsibility
Arup is an independent firm which prides itself on its reputation in sustainability, strong morals and technical excellence. The company grounds itself in the ethics of its founder:
This quote summarises the sense of collective responsibility which Arup claim is intrinsically tied to the business model. Arup gain a lot from the marketing of this stance, using their ethical base to encourage recruitment, hence opening up a greater talent pool for the company with the associated financial benefits. Additionally this unique selling point is frequently used to improve their public image and strengthen project proposals over its competitors. This undoubtedly a key part of the business model and success of Arup.
With this in mind it seems somewhat jarring to look across to the 2022 Qatari World Cup project. With over 1200 deaths reported already and estimates of a total of 4000 deaths before a ball is even kicked. Migrant workers are not subject to the same legal protection as Qatari residents, often having their passports taken upon arrival and forced to live in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions, working in temperatures exceeding 40°C without an adequate water supply.
The UN Code of Conduct explicitly states that a company cannot work complicitly to corruption or human rights abuse, yet Arup have found themselves in that position. Although Arup isn’t involved in the labourer contracts, they are knowingly working with the Qatari government who are actively censoring the truth by arresting journalists and claiming that the presentation of facts about labourer deaths were “…completely untrue. In fact, after almost five million work-hours on World Cup construction sites, not a single worker’s life has been lost.”. Furthermore, this is not Arup’s first venture into Qatar, having been involved with the Aspire Tower build for the 2006 Asian Games. Therefore, Arup are unable to claim ignorance of the conditions. In order to uphold their own core values and continue to receive the associated benefits, they must take action.
The option of pulling out of the project can be clearly justified from a virtue ethics standpoint. It is irrefutable that the situation violates human rights and Arup should not maintain involvement, regardless of potential consequences. This could consequently encourage other businesses to follow suit, increasing pressure on the Qatari government to make changes.
Alternatively, Arup could maintain their involvement, using the power they have available to fully expose the extent of the abuses; publicising it to increase international outrage and force improvements. This would be fitting with consequentialism ethics – using whatever means necessary to improve the conditions.
Arup should not claim responsibility
The Qatari Government employed builder, Mace, and contractor, EC Harris, as a joint venture to complete the construction of the stadiums. Arup is a key consultancy firm employed to provide the engineering technical services.
As an engineering consultancy, Arup’s sole responsibility is to provide technical expertise including construction knowledge and experience to its client. Ensuring safe and ethical working conditions are provided for labourers is the responsibility of the employers and should be carefully regulated by the government.
The contract between the joint venture and Arup does not include any terms regarding labourers or their working conditions. Including these terms would be outside the duties of the engineering firm and would be a gross and unethical misuse of their influence on the project.
Another important consideration is that Arup has already invested a significant amount of resources into the development of the stadiums and related infrastructure. By terminating its engagement with this project, not only would Arup lose a significant portion of its revenue, it will also breach a contractually binding agreement. Breaching contract in itself would be a violation of their ethics policy. Not only will this tarnish the business financially, but would negatively impact their reputation within the industry, consequently impacting future relations and opportunities.
Were Arup to breach their contract with the joint venture, another engineering consultancy firm would inevitably take its place and carry on the work they have started. All in all, any stand which Arup tries to make against the current conditions will be insignificant in the grand scheme. The only change that can make a real difference will be one made by the government and the responsible political bodies.
Some might argue that by turning a blind eye towards the poor treatment of construction workers, Arup is violating their own Code of Conduct. However, as an engineering firm, Arup is adhering to its core values by ensuring the health and safety of all of its own employees and contractors. Additionally, the stadium is being built to exceptional health and safety standards to ensure the wellbeing of all its end users.
Considering these factors, a couple of options for action may be suggested. First, from a deontological framework, Arup must continue on with project in line with the agreed contract. It is not their responsibility to provide a suitable standard for labourer working and living conditions.
Another option is to carry on with the project whilst encouraging the contractors to provide ethical working conditions for labourers. Despite this not being their responsibility, it would fall in-line with their ethical standpoint whilst not breaching terms of their contract with the joint venture.
So, has Arup compromised its integrity by working with the Qatari government? Should they be claiming any responsibility for the labour conditions and what actions, if any, should they be taking?
Fiona Fa, Kat R., Paul Ought, A.R. Upton