Publication date: 31/03/2023

After a mixed but mostly disappointing response from businesses to questions about the human rights implications of their work on Saudi Arabia’s Neom megacity, ALQST today urged them to engage urgently and much more seriously with the issues raised in its recently published report, The Dark Side of Neom.

ALQST’s report detailed the flagrant, brutal and ongoing violations of local residents’ rights already in the early stages of constructing Neom. Dozens of members of the Huwaitat tribe who objected to their community’s forcible eviction in 2020 have been arrested and detained; 16 have been jailed for terms of up to 50 years and five even sentenced to death. The report called on investors, consultants and businesses to look closely into their corporate responsibilities to avoid complicity. 

In February 2023, ALQST’s partner NGO the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) invited twelve companies named in the report to respond and set out what human rights due diligence they had undertaken before accepting work on the Neom project. The three companies that have responded so far – McKinsey, Air Products and Keller – merely gave generic replies and failed to substantially engage. Air Products even made the unsubstantiated claim that its presence in Saudi Arabia “gives us an ability to make a positive contribution and a meaningful difference”. 

ALQST thanks the companies that did reply, but calls for more substantive responses, and urges the other nine companies to engage and respond as a matter of urgency. 

Meanwhile, ALQST has been contacted directly by a number of other companies involved or considering involvement in Neom, who have expressed concern about the violations on the ground and sought advice. ALQST greatly welcomes such dialogue. 

ALQST’s Executive Director Julia Legner comments: “Given the extent of the rights violations that ALQST has been documenting in the context of Neom, generic replies or total silence from the companies involved display an alarming indifference to the human costs of this and similar projects in Saudi Arabia. We urge more companies to engage with these issues, as some are already beginning to do, and to take their corporate responsibilities seriously.”

ALQST reiterates its calls on businesses involved, or considering involvement, in Neom, to:

  • reflect on your legal and moral responsibilities under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and relevant company commitments;
  • engage in meaningful consultation with the affected communities, Saudi civil society members in the diaspora and other relevant stakeholders in order to gauge existing or potential adverse human rights impacts;
  • provide mitigations, such as relief to the Huwaitat tribe through grants or relocation assistance;
  • ensure that services, technologies and materials provided to the Saudi authorities cannot and will not be used in violations of basic human rights; and
  • reassess your involvement in the Neom project and be prepared to cease your engagement unless and until any adverse human rights impacts have been addressed.
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