In 2011 Danwatch documented that Rambøll was involved in construction projects in which employees worked under slave-like conditions. The workers were not employed by Rambøll but one of its partners. Rambøll took note of this and adopted a new policy: ”obligation to act”. And that is what they are trying to do, but it is not easy.
It was Arabtec Construction and Al Habtoor Leightons that in 2011 employed migrant workers under conditions that can be characterised as forced labour: ”Passport confiscation increases the likelihood that migrant workers are forced into labour from which they cannot escape. And forced labour is the worst kind of labour,” said Caroline O’Reilly, head of ILO’s programme against forced labour, to DanWatch back then. The two contractors collaborated with Rambøll on several construction projects in Dubai in 2011. In Dubai the so-called sponsorship system, in which a migrant worker is bound to one employer only, is widespread. The migrant workers had their passports confiscated, were lodged under inhumane conditions and were not paid what they were promised. When Rambøll found out how the two contractors treated their employees, Flemming Bligaard Petersen, group CEO at that time, contacted them and pointed out the problems but never got any replies.
According to Rambøll, the reason for the lack of response was that Rambøll had no leverage. When Rambøll works as a consultant on a construction project, they have no say in who does the construction work. Therefore they have nothing with which to exert pressure on their partners, current group CEO Jens-Peter Saul explains to the newspaper Ingeniøren: ”It is a dilemma we are often in. The consultants are picked first, and then the other project partners are picked. This means that we have no contractual relation to them, and therefore we cannot push anything through.” Nevertheless, the episode has had an effect on who Rambøll collaborates with in the future.
As a result of the episode, Rambøll refuses to collaborate with the two contractors in the future – unless it can be verified that they have changed conduct. Furthermore, Rambøll try to have it written into their contracts that they can dissolve a collaboration should they discover violations of human and workers’ rights on projects they are involved in.