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Companies involved in Bahrain’s BAPCO protests issue weak responses to rights violations

On November 11, 2021

In September 2021, thousands of migrant workers employed by Nasser S. Al Hajri Corporation W.L.L (NSH) staged a week-long protest over poor living and working conditions.  Both police and company security forces responded to the workers, who were contracted by Bahrain Petroleum Company (BAPCO) to carry out the multibillion-dollar BAPCO Modernization Programme,  with threats and overt violence. Following  MR’s reporting, the companies involved in the incident have responded to requests for comment from the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC).

NSH vehemently denied any violations on their part and brazenly maintained that the incident was "neither a strike nor a protest, but an emotional outbreak," blaming a “small group of people with an intention to defame NSH, BAPCO and the Kingdom of Bahrain.”  The company dismissed the videos of the protests as “fake,” though they were verified in real time. NSH also claimed that there was “no police interference and the workers were given the complete freedom to express themselves,” despite the fact that several videos clearly show riot police with batons present at the protest.

Unlike NSH, BAPCO acknowledged that a protest occurred. In contrast to NSH, which categorically denied any issues in its statement, they also recognized, to some degree, that there was a problem that sparked the protests in the first place, stating that “requests made by the workers are taken seriously, and have been and will continue to be addressed.” However, the company denied that BAPCO workers’ (i.e., direct employees’) participation in the protest. While the veracity of this statement remains unclear, as workers do often refer to the primary client they work with as their employer,  BAPCO is still not absolved of its responsibility for the welfare of the employees of the companies it contracted to carry out its operations.  The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights states that a company must mitigate or prevent any impact that is directly linked to its operations, products, and services through its business relationships.

BAPCO also claimed that no security forces physically intervened in the protests, and that instead, a small group of workers became aggressive with their co-workers. BAPCO did not provide the BHRRC with evidence to substantiate this accusation.

NSH is a major subcontractor to the consortium of companies known as TTSJV (Técnicas Reunidas, Technip Energies, and Samsung Engineering), which is also contracted by BAPCO for the modernization programme. The three companies all responded to BHRRC with a nearly identical statement asserting that the protests were initiated by a "minority group of workers” employed by NSH. Like BAPCO, they asserted that the health and safety conditions of NSH workers are audited by internal and independent external bodies in line with International Finance Corporation (IFC) performance standards.

The TTSJV added that steps had already been taken to ensure safe working conditions on-site and that workers who wanted to go home (because of the poor conditions)  had been repatriated. Additionally, they stated that they "strongly protest" media reports, including MR's article, for containing "untrue allegations," without specifying which part of the article they claim to be untrue.

The UK Export Finance agency, which agreed to provide insurance in the amount of USD 500 million for BAPCO's modernisation program, also recently issued a non-substantive statement to the BHRRC regarding the incident, stating that they are "closely monitoring the situation."

MR recently spoke with sources on the ground who confirmed that many workers were repatriated following the protest and that an agreement was reached with those who chose to remain. It is still unknown what happened to the workers injured in the videos. According to social workers, access to the camp and workers has been restricted following the protests.