The situation regarding human rights in Saudi Arabia is well documented, as are the links with Newcastle United. The Newcastle Amnesty Saudi sub-group has been investigating some links between the business sector of the North East and Saudi Arabia, examining the extent to which some of the businesses are abiding by their own stated principles, regarding the respect of human rights. Two of the businesses which are seeking to invest in Saudi Arabia and have consequently come to the attention of the Newcastle Amnesty International Saudi sub-group are Sovereign Strategy and Oliver Wyman.
One of the areas in Saudi Arabia in which North East businesses have shown some interest is NEOM, which is a new urban area planned by the regime in Saudi Arabia. It is planned to be built in the Tabuk province in the north west of Saudi Arabia. The site is north of the Red Sea, south of Jordan and east of Egypt across the Gulf of Aqaba.
The sub-group has written to Stuart Cockburn, stating that it is their understanding that his company Oliver Wyman, a global firm with a strong presence in the UK and also a base in Newcastle upon Tyne, are a leading consultant to the NEOM project, thereby bringing the links between the North East of England and Saudi Arabia much closer to home.
Colin Taylor from the Amnesty Saudi sub-group has also stated that, “Interestingly their website does not contain a direct reference to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, but it does contain an extensive values section including an international section at which has a reference to UN Sustainable Development Goals. Their website only mentions Lisa Quest under ‘Our People’ but I phoned and confirmed that Stuart Cockburn is still a director based at their Newcastle office.”
As with the case of Sovereign Strategy, the sub-group suggested to Cockburn that they would like to gauge the extent to which UK local North East businesses understand the impact of their involvement in supporting alleged human rights abuses taking place in Saudi Arabia to assist in the development of NEOM.
Questions from the sub-group
It was in this context that the sub-group said that they would be grateful to receive a response from Cockburn to the following questions:
• To what extent have the employees from the Newcastle branch of Oliver Wyman directly worked on any aspects of the NEOM project?
• As a senior employee of Oliver Wyman, how do you feel about representing a brand that is servicing a client (NEOM) that is linked to the repression of free speech and neglect of minority groups (sometimes through the use of specialised criminal courts) in Saudi Arabia?
• Oliver Wyman has joined forces with the charity NE Youth to ‘tackle social inequality’ in the North East. How far do you think your North East local corporate social responsibility efforts are a contradiction in principle to the operations and conduct of your organisation in Saudi Arabia?
Letter to Alan Donnelly
On 28 August, Colin Taylor also wrote to Alan Donnelly, in his capacity as Chair of North East Economic Forum and Executive Chairman of Sovereign Strategy, on behalf of the Newcastle upon Tyne Amnesty International Saudi Arabia Sub-Group, which focuses on understanding human rights issues and abuses carried out in and by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
In the letter, he noted that one particular focus of the sub-group is UK business investment in and trade with Saudi Arabia, and any human rights violations accompanying it.
It was in this context that the Saudi sub-group noted Donnelly’s recent statement in his capacity as Chair of North East Economic Forum and Executive Chairman of Sovereign Strategy, in which he welcomed the prospect of further Saudi investment in the region and the “deepening relationship with Saudi Arabia,” as mentioned on the Bdaily news website on 2 May 2023:
The Saudi sub-group was also said to have noted the commitment of Alan Donnelly’s company Sovereign Strategy to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) adopted in September 2015 at the 75th United Nations General Assembly.
As with Oliver Wyman, the Amnesty International sub-group has also written to Donnelly to explain that they are keen to gauge the extent to which businesses in the North East understand the impact of their actions in what they described as, “supporting ongoing human rights abuses taking place in Saudi Arabia.”
It was in this context that the Newcastle Amnesty Saudi sub-group asked Donnelly the following questions:
– How do you reconcile your enthusiasm for deepening relationships with Saudi Arabia with the specific requirements of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, notably:
SDG 1) Poverty
SDG 5) Gender Equality – in the light of the continuing prevalence of the guardianship system
SDG 10) Reduced Inequalities
and most significantly
SDG 16) Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions?
The Newcastle Amnesty Saudi sub-group also told Donnelly that they noted from his LinkedIn profile that he was Chair and Convener of the G20 Health Development partnership.
Consequently, in the same letter, they asked Donnelly, how he reacted to the treatment of migrant workers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the way that Human Rights Watch claim that they are being exposed to work in severe heat and the impact of this treatment on their health and wellbeing (e.g. chronic health conditions and heat-related deaths)?
The Newcastle Amnesty Saudi sub-group also asked Donnelly the following questions:
– How often have you or your staff, in particular your MENA Senior Counsel, Simon Collis, discussed the UN Sustainable Development Goals with businesses in Saudi Arabia or their potential customers in the UK?
– From your vast political and business experience, what do you think can be done to encourage the Saudi regime to adopt a more acceptable approach to human rights issues?
By early October, the Newcastle Amnesty International Saudi sub-group had not received replies to either letter sent.
We all want to see more investment in the North East, but the Amnesty International Saudi sub-group do not want to see that investment at the expense of human rights in Saudi Arabia. Perhaps Alan Donnelly and Stuart Cockburn can reply to the letters from Amnesty International and work constructively with them to ensure that the investment in our region which we need does not come at the expense of human rights in Saudia Arabia. And naturally the same goes for any other businesses based in the region.