Two foreign consortia contracted to carry out dredging work on the Suez Canal expansion have denied violating the human and labor rights of local workers hired for the project.
“DEME Group and Great Lakes strongly reject any insinuation or allegation that the company would not respect the human rights of their local staff and vessel crew,” reads an official statement from the Belgian DEME Group and the American Great Lakes company.
“We strongly dismiss any implication that we did not respect the human rights of the workers employed by the challenge consortium,” wrote the other consortium, comprised of UAE firm National Marine Dredging Company, Dutch companies Boskalis and Van Oord, and Belgium’s Jan de Nul.
The statements, which were obtained by the Business and Human Rights Resource Center, came in response to two news articles, one of which was by Mada Masr.
In a story published August 7, Mada Masr interviewed Health Ministry spokesperson Hossam Abdel Ghaffar, who said 10 workers had died of causes ranging from industrial accidents to heart attacks. Another 145 were injured, he added.
Mada Masr also spoke to two Suez Canal workers who said they faced long hours and back-breaking conditions as companies rushed to complete the canal extension before a one-year deadline. One worker noted that conditions for workers in private firms were often worse than at state companies, with hardships including sleeping outdoors and limited access to food and running water.
Temporary and non-unionized workers who were typically involved in the dry-digging phase of the project endured the worst treatment, the article noted.
Mada Masr did not refer to the involvement of foreign firms, which were involved in the dredging phase of the canal rather than the dry-digging portion.
An August 10 story posted on the Egyptian Streets website referenced Mada Masr’s reporting on worker fatalities and labor conditions in digging the canal.
The Egyptian Streets story noted that six foreign firms had been hired to compete the dredging: the UAE firm The National Marine Dredging Company, the Dutch-based Royal Boskalis Westminster and Van Oord, the Belgian firms Jan de Nul Group and Deme Group, and the US-based Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company.
The story was illustrated with a stock photograph of one of DEME Group’s dredgers, with a caption saying the use of private contractors such as DEME was of particular concern.
The responses from the foreign companies appear to focus on the connections drawn by Egyptian Streets, rather than Mada Masr’s reporting.
“The working conditions, the accommodation, the quality of food, the transport and the safety measures were constantly of high quality and equal for both the expats and the locals,” DEME and Great Lakes stated. “As a result, no major incidents took place.”
The second consortium echoed that message: “The working and housing conditions on the project were consistent with international standards, and each of the consortium members has stringent safety programs that meet the high standards of their international client base.”.