HeidelbergCement and LafargeHolcim operations mapped in MENA

BWI released a mapping of HeidelbergCement and LafargeHolcim’s operations in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region reporting on the companies’ compliance to international and regional standards, and on their financial stakeholders. The comprehensive report, which was commissioned by BWI with support from FNV Mondiaal, concludes that due diligence measures of two of the largest building material companies in the world lack consideration or understanding of the conditions of workers on the ground. 

The study reveals that, despite the numerous accusations of labour rights violations lodged against the companies, Swedish, Norwegian and Dutch pension funds continue to be invested in the companies. Those funds also have due diligence responsibilities related to the conduct of businesses in which they invest. 

The research also showed that, in the context of human rights obligations of these cement multinational companies (MNCs), non-compliance with international labour standards most often involves subcontractors that do not respect standards. Policies and practices of these MNCs do not monitor and control the conduct of sub-contractors. The report elaborates that workers are treated as commodities or supplies rather than human beings. The workers of sub-contractors have the same universal trade union and worker rights as other workers and their rights should be fully respected. Their conditions are determined by procurement practices of the cement MNCs rather than human resources departments. 

Given this situation, the study proposed to trade unions to engage with all workers at the operations of HeidelbergCement and LafargeHolcim, including workers of sub-contractors, to help them respond collectively to violations of their rights which will, at the same time, strengthen the trade union presence and membership in the cement industry. Stronger unions with active members will have greater capacity to engage companies as well as companies and national and local governments to respect and protect rights and to implement international labour standards, national law, and honour company policies. 

At the international level, the study urges that national efforts be complemented by strengthening international advocacy and engagement. It should focus on streamlining the implementation of company policies so that those global policies are well and consistently implemented regardless of region and country, and stopping the use of subcontracting for core activities. The study found that violation of those policies is particularly striking when it comes to contract work that is performed for core functions, but under substandard conditions and recommended that core activities should be performed by workers with direct employment relationships with cement companies. 

In response to the study’s conclusions, BWI calls for equal rights for all workers at HeidelbergCement and LafargeHolcim’s operations and calls on the companies to engage with all workers who are doing work for them. 

BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson called the report an important tool for informing and strengthening organising and collective bargaining strategies of affiliates as they engage the companies and thanked trade unions, institutions, union leaders, workers and researchers for their participation and contributions. 

“This research confirms many of the reports that we have received from the ground regarding the compliance to international labour standards at HeidelbergCement and LafargeHolcim’s plants. It provides us with a frame of reference to navigate the industry’s challenges as we continue to fight for better working and living conditions for cement workers,” Yuson said.

Download and read the study.