Are Arup’s Ethics Lost in Qatar?

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.Stadium

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:

“…our lives are inextricably mixed up with those of our fellow human beings, and that there can be no real happiness in isolation…” – Ove Arup

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.

InfographicWith 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

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8 thoughts on “Are Arup’s Ethics Lost in Qatar?

  1. An insightful article and a very interesting analysis of Arup’s underlying principles and responsibilities. I feel this really captures the moral dilemma that the company faces while exploring the reasons why a resolution is not clear at this moment.

    On one hand, I’m of the opinion that since the critical situation with regards to working conditions and human rights abuse is already widely known, Arup should hold to its responsibility to avoid working “complicity to corruption or human rights abuse” over its contractual obligations. On the other hand, a good point is raised in this article – that Arup could just as easily be replaced by another engineering company if it were to refuse to work further with the Qatari government. For this reason, I believe it is the responsibility instead of the international community to push Qatar through sanctions to improve the conditions for workers.

    Still, I would have been interested to have a clearer idea of how much this project really means to Arup financially, as from my knowledge they are a company undertaking many large projects around the world and would soon find clients to fill the gap. I would think that the damage done to their reputation when the media spotlight is thrown on the 2022 olympics could in fact end up outweighing the potential financial loss.

    Overall, very well written and a good read!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great article!

    Tough position for Arup. Ethically, or even from a marketing stand point, any company involved in human rights abuses like this example, no matter how removed they are from the actual abuse, should want to distance themselves as much as possible. Any company seen to be tacitly endorsing such behavior clearly does not abide by an ethical code. And having an ethical code that applies to one group of people but not another is arguably worse.

    I do not agree with the insinuation that Arup should not break its contract as “another engineering consultancy firm would inevitably take its place”. It is true wherever there is demand, there will be supply regardless of the ethics of the demand. But in choosing to supply that demand, you must make a conscious decision to ignore the ethical complication. We are all responsible for making it harder for bad things to happen, even if we can only make a small difference.

    “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” – Edmund Burke

    The manufacturers of Zyclon B were not compelled to supply the Nazi regime with toxic gas, they chose to. They were rightly prosecuted for being complicit in the deaths of millions of people. In this case, Arup are choosing to remain complicit.

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  3. This is an intersting case as morally slavery is clearly one of the most reprehensible concepts still alive in todays world, however the involvement of Arup could be ensuring that MORE workers are not dying; a less scrupulous company who are willing to cut more corners could have a far greater death toll than an ethically responsible company.

    I think the blame for this death should lie directly on the Qatari governments shoulders. The blatant disregard for worker wellbeing is directly leading to the death of these people, however the relationship between Arup and the Qatari goverment shows that Arup is at least complicit with slavery. Even if Arup had noble intentions, the ethically responsible thing would be to walk away.

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  4. Reading this, I’ll highlight a few phrases, and give my responses and thoughts to the paragraph that they are taken from.

    “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.”

    In so far as promoting the company as an ethical company, really doesnt speak to how they treat contract workers of exterior interests. It does speak as to how they (supposedly) will treat their own workers, but even more importantly, how they will treat their business partners. The exchange of money for services will proceed within legal ethics.

    “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 ”

    Arup does not break the UN Code of Conduct in any regards. If the Qatari Government is breaking UN Code of Conduct, it is not Arup’s legal issue, the Qatari Government being a Sovereign Power, with the right to create it’s own legal framework, wherein the worker population reside.
    If the Qatari Government is sanctioned by the UN Security Council, in a manner requiring Arup to deny services, then that would be another matter. There exists no such UNSC mandates.

    Arup is a Corporation, they exist with the creation of wealth as purpose. They do not and should not be able to exercise influence and power over a sovereign state.

    “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. ”

    This is one of the most beautiful paragraphs I have ever read. Brilliant.

    “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. ”

    Exactly. This is important to remember, for anyone in the private sector. Regulation and Law Making is not the Corporate Sector’s reponsibility.

    This was a nice two section article view of the case. Personally I find myself much in the position of the later viewpoint. I would perhaps had liked some more actual figures in the report, other than the vague 1200-4000 deaths reported in the beginning. Also, links or sources for the information would also be nice. Which Qatari Government Agency is reponsible for the Labour Regulations, and which are reponsible for Aquisition of Human Resources?
    Just a few thoughts.

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  5. Having read the blog and the comments above, I completely side with James Skaife.
    Arup is known for its outstanding ethics and policies and continue to demonstrate this across most if not all their projects. However, the case highlighted above is also valid. I do believe that it is a moral responsibility for all stakeholders involved – the government, any contractors and engineers working on this project. But it could also be (as highlighted above) that through the involvement of Arup, not more deaths are occurring.
    The Qatari government should definitely take a bigger part in ensuring the welfare of all workers called in for the project and not only its nationals or citizens. Qatar carries a reputation where they believe they are superior to others and any migrants in the country (not Qatari by blood) are treat as second- (if not worse) class citizen.
    But taking a deontological stance and going by Arup’s ethics, if this continues then they should leave the project.

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  6. This is an interesting case and despite the severity, it is not the only one. I find it quite intriguing that this was the case chosen to have this debate on because the country at hand, Qatar, does not have the cleanest human rights slate but Arup is a British company known for its ethics.

    I believe both the company and the government must work together to ensure that no human rights violations nor deaths take place in the construction of the stadium. What I would like to know though, is why Arup is willing and accepting to be caught out on such burdensome accusations? For company that is so focused on ethics and policy, what is the advantage of being involved in the Qatari project? I would like to see a detailed breakdown of the cost-risk analysis of Arup’s involvement in the project.
    In my opinion, conservation and protection of human life should take priority over any project.

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  7. Overall, an interesting read that addresses a very difficult topic. I find myself thinking that Arup should never have been there in the first place. It was hardly a secret that Qatar’s world cup bid was potentially dubious. Arup made a conscious decision to go into that contract knowing full well that there would be controversy surrounding the matter. It makes me wonder to what extent they were willing to turn a blind eye to corruption, dodgy dealings and potential corner cutting for the sake of this contract.

    Arup is a company that prides itself on its ethical values; they make a point to come across as a company that tries to engage in positive global change through their work. Yet they ostensibly aren’t doing that here. While I agree with the pro-Arup argument that they perhaps don’t have a contractual responsibility to change things, when a company tries to present itself as a force for good they are holding themselves to a higher standard, and so should we.

    I disagree with the point that the pro-Arup argument makes that it would be unethical to try to set conditions for labourer welfare on the projects they would be involved in. I feel like trying to reduce the occurrence of, what is effectively, slave labour is one of the few things that can never really be considered unethical.

    The pro-Arup side I think offers more feasible solutions given the situation as it is now, but I don’t think that invalidates the anti-Arup argument that they have done their ethics a serious disservice. I absolutely think Arup should be bearing some responsibility for the situation.

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  8. This is a very interesting article and reading everyone’s comments has opened my eyes as to the complexity of this problem.

    Personally I agree with the suggestion that were ARUP not to be involved, another company with lower ethical standards would take the job anyway. But ARUP should have used this opportunity to make a difference to the working standards of these workers.

    The widely used SPeAR software package (Sustainable Project Appraisal Routine) – (http://www.arup.com/projects/spear) which is developed by ARUP, is a tool used to assess the sustainability of a project within economic, social and environmental structures. When assessing a project using this software, the user is asked whether conducting the project would put any workers or people in danger, with a section relating to poor working standards and even extremes such as child labour.

    If ARUP had have used their own software for assessment of this project, which I am assuming they would, someone within the company must have come across this question and must have answered it, which would have shown up on the overall social aspect of the outputted diagram.

    Therefore I believe it is inexcusable that they would not at least try and improve the conditions for these workers, whether it was directly their responsibility or not.

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