Ethics webinar highlights importance of “doing the right projects in the right way”

21 Feb 2023

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The first event in FIDIC’s 2023 webinar series took place on 21 February and looked at some of the more difficult and challenging issues facing the construction sector that are not normally discussed.

FIDIC’s new 2023 series of events is being sponsored by infrastructure engineering software company Bentley Systems, FIDIC’s 2023 webinar strategic partner.

The webinar, The darker side of projects - dealing with uncomfortable issues in the construction industry, was organised by FIDIC’s Future Leaders Advisory Council and an international line-up of speakers was assembled to discuss a range of issues from modern slavery and corruption to the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, as well as other ‘difficult’ topics that are not widely and openly discussed in the industry.

Speakers at the webinar, which was chaired by Rodrigo Juarez, chair of the FIDIC Future Leaders Advisory Council, included Dr Tristano Sainati, lecturer in project management at the University of Leeds (UK), Rasha Hammad, founder and CEO of Youth Underground (Switzerland), Mads Brandt Rasmussen, associate project and market director at COWI (Denmark) and Artur Henrique de Morais Brito, project manager at TPF Engenharia (Brazil).

Welcoming attendees to the webinar, FIDIC president Tony Barry thanked Bentley Systems for their support and highlighted that 2023 was an important year as it is the 110th anniversary of FIDIC’s formation back in 2013. He said he was looking forward to celebrating the milestone during the next 12 months.

“Today, we will be looking at some of the more ‘uncomfortable’ and challenging issues facing the construction industry,” said Barry. “These include issues ranging from modern slavery and corruption to the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, as well as other ‘difficult’ topics that are not widely and openly discussed at events like these. We will discuss the effects of these issues on the delivery of consulting engineering services, on the wider industry and their effects on end users and society in general,” he said.

Welcoming attendees to the webinar on behalf of the FIDIC board, Luis Villaroya, said that it was vital for the industry to be addressing topics like those the webinar was discussing. “It’s also entirely appropriate and encouraging that it is the future leaders of our industry who are discussing these issues and I hope this bodes well for the future health of our industry,” he said.

Kicking off the webinar, the moderator, Rodrigo Juarez, chair of the FIDIC Future Leaders Advisory Council, said that it was highly appropriate that FIDIC’s future leaders were discussing these challenging issues that were so crucial to the future health of the industry. “Today, we will not only be talking about doing the right projects, but also doing the right projects in the right way,” he said.

The first speaker, Dr Tristano Sainati, lecturer in project management at the University of Leeds in the UK, offered an academic point of view on the issues under discussion. He gave a quick introduction to the different forms of the ‘dark side’ in construction projects, namely illegal and unethical practices, including bribery, money laundering, modern slavery and fraud. He also highlighted the challenges of obtaining data about wrongdoing in the industry and the need for anonymous information to facilitate disclosure. These challenges included ethical approval, defamation and data collection, he said.

Rasha Hammad, founder and CEO of Youth Underground in Switzerland, gave a brief overview of her organisation which works to combat modern day slavery. She said that it was crucial that an organisation like Youth Underground, an NGO focusing on youth education, was an important part of this conversation. “While all of us here are from different sectors, we can only succeed through interlinkages. We need to adapt, connect and innovate in our responses,” Hammad said. She also explained that ethics were now playing an increasing role is clients’ and customers’ perception of how a business is faring and addressing modern-day slavery affects the bottom line, so it was crucial to discuss such ‘darker issues’.

Hammad also highlighted some examples of where companies had not addressed some of the more difficult issues because they were too “uncomfortable” to deal with. This was a mistake she said. “We need to make the uncomfortable comfortable,” said Hammad and deal with these issues in the right way to ensure that any reputational damage was limited in the long run.

Mads Brandt Rasmussen, associate project and market director at COWI in Denmark, gave some practical project experiences from his perspective working on international projects with a contractor as subconsultant. Rasmussen said that it was really important to have a regular dialogue on projects to encourage an open cross-company, cross-project culture. This was particularly important when working across national boundaries and with international project teams, he said.

Artur Henrique de Morais Brito, project manager at TPF Engenharia in Brazil, gave a brief overview of the situation around corruption in Brazil. He highlighted some of the challenges that had arisen by the previous military regime in Brazil leaving some corrupt practices in place when the democratically elected government took over. Some of these practices had a long-lasting Impact on the construction sector which had been severely damaged by corruption and had yet to fully recover, Brito explained. “What can we do to address these ‘darker side’ issues?” he asked. “We need clear codes of conduct and rules and we also need to train our people to identify issues like corruption and to understand and see its signs on projects. We also need to avoid conflicts of interest and do our due diligence,” he said. Above all, future leaders need to have the will to address difficult issues and be prepared to “do the right thing under any circumstances,” said Brito.

The webinar discussion addressed a number of key questions, including some of the challenges and remedies that academics face in investigating the dark side of construction, whether academic research was possible in any country, the differences between “human trafficking” and “modern-day slavery” and whether legislation should be increased to screen the occurrence of slavery. Questions were also raised about where the cut-off point should be where you decide to totally stop work on the project due to corrupt practices and whether the system in certain territories was such that ethical companies will simply not survive.

Summing up the event, FIDIC president Tony Barry said that it was instructive to understand that there will always be people who are willing to engage in corrupt conduct and it was vital for the industry to ensure that methods were in place to combat these issues to ensure that the engineering, construction and infrastructure sector was an industry that was led correctly, honestly and with sound ethics. “By having people in our industry who are sensitive to these issues, we will be able to avoid the catastrophic impact of corruption and other ‘dark side’ practices,” said Barry.

Click here to find out more about FIDIC’s 2023 webinar series, sponsored by webinar strategic partner Bentley Systems.

 

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