‘Qatar World Cup expected to take more lives than 9/11’

Last week’s headlines on the lives lost at construction projects for the World Cup in Qatar were difficult to believe.

About 1200 construction workers have died since 2010, prompting one sensationalist publication to claim, ‘Qatar’s World Cup Expected To Take More Lives Than 9/11‘.

To put that number into perspective, in Australia there have been 45 deaths in the construction industry since 2012, according to Safe Work Australia.

Criticism over the construction-related deaths is widespread and I hope will lead to accountability of companies and their executives who are at fault, and justice for the families who lost loved ones due to negligence.

As contracts for large infrastructure projects for the World Cup are due to be awarded soon, the Qatar government will be under pressure to take the utmost care, to select contractors that have genuinely strong safety records.

As for soccer’s international body, I’d like to see them man up. FIFA appears to have washed its hands of any blame, which is downright irresponsible (supply chain management anyone… anyone?).

It’s de rigueur for construction companies to engage in community activities, care for the environment and promote their safety standards as part of their marketing or public relations strategy.

The challenge for the likes of the Qatar government and FIFA is to see beyond the spin.

The organisers of the Qatar World Cup organisation are well-versed in spin, judging from this response by their head of PR in relation to a negative article.

The deliberate obfuscation of safety performance in the head of PR’s email to the editor of Deadspin is stunning. For example, he claims, “In almost 50,000 man hours, the Supreme Committee [of the Qatar World Cup] has not had one single injury or fatality on World Cup projects.”

This statement appears to refer to an executive team, probably numbering around 25 people (working full time for a year, 25 people would clock up 50,000 hours). It seems to have no relation to the construction workers.

A few years ago, I learned from an unlikely source how to cut the crap with a very large construction company, recognised as amongst the most sustainable in the industry internationally.

The company did a stellar job of promoting its environmental credentials, a key factor to winning contracts for constructing green buildings and infrastructure. It was also adept at promoting the positive elements of its safety performance, and deflecting attention from bad news.

The problem for the company was that my client at the time, a fund manager who worked for an influential institutional shareholder of the company, looked beyond the glossy corporate social responsibility collateral and identified that the company’s death toll and injury rates were unacceptable.

He proposed writing a letter to the AFR editor to expose the company’s poor safety record, if the CEO failed to address the issue. This threat, followed by more genteel discussions with the company’s executives, led to a quieter resolution. We didn’t send the tell-all letter to the AFR editor, and the company made promises about how it could improve its performance.

To be honest, it seemed the company jolted into action after this confrontation but, since then, its safety performance has been patchy despite some improvement.

I gained a lot of respect for the fund manager who demonstrated, with all the tenacity of an alpha male master of the universe (and of course with the backing of a huge investment firm), that one man can make a difference.

FIFA could take a leaf out of his book.


Caroline Regidor
BY Caroline Regidor ON 2 April 2014
Caroline Regidor is managing director of First Degree PR. Caroline has over a decade's experience working within the media industry and providing comms advice to leading corporates such as the Commonwealth Bank, Colonial First State, Baulderstone (part of the Lend Lease Group) and Gadens Lawyers.