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Dutch pension funds investigate possible rights violations in Qatar

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Several large pension funds in the Netherlands have said they are closely monitoring possible human rights violations and labour conditions by companies involved in the contruction of infrastructure and football facilities for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. 

The large metal schemes PMT and PME said they would contact building companies with the view to starting an engagement process, following a survey by Profundo commissioned by union federation FNV.

The survey, which focused on investors in five companies, suggested many Dutch pension funds were invested in companies active in Qatar, and thereby ran the risk of becoming embroiled in rights violations.

The survey singled out French firm Vinci and South Korean company Hyundai Engineering & Construction for their alleged involvement in the violation of labour conditions, according to “observations by social organisations and unions”.

However, it noted that both companies were improving their policies.

The survey argued that 25 Dutch financial institutions were at risk through their stakes in Dutch consultant Arcadis and construction company Boskalis – both working in cooperation with Hyundai – as well as in German building firm Hochtief.

Ton Heerts, the FNV’s chairman, said: “It often happens that employers take workers’ passports and force them to work in the full sun for 12 hours.”

He said FNV representatives would continue to raise the issue with Dutch pension funds’ boards.

PMT and PME – whose assets are both managed by MN – said they would confront Vinci and Hochtief with the FNV report’s conclusions, adding that they had already divested from Hyundai.

Meanwhile, Profundo found that APG, the asset manager for the €309bn civil service scheme ABP, has a combined equity stake of €158m in the five companies, while the €142bn healthcare scheme PFZW invested €66m in equity and €59m in corporate bonds.

According to Profundo, PFZW responded to its conclusions by starting a dialogue with the companies over their possible role in improving working conditions in Qatar.

However, ABP rejected the bureau’s findings, saying a previous, independent survey by ESG specialist Sustainalytics found no evidence of rights violations by the companies in which it invests. 

BpfBouw, the industry-wide scheme for the building industry, said its own research had produced “little direct proof” that could link specific companies to violations of human rights.

Profundo said PGB, the €15bn pension fund for the printing and process industry, had raised its awareness of the issue.

It added that the €13bn railways scheme SPF and the €3bn public transport pension fund SPOV had confirmed they would look into violations with the view to starting a possible dialogue, and cited exclusion from investment as a last resort.

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