With two-month to go for 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, human rights groups have urged FIFA’s sponsors to compensate workers involved in building stadiums and other infrastructure.
From 20 November, football fans across the globe will be glued to their tv screens but few viewers will be aware of the human cost to migrant workers mainly from South Asia.
The eight stadiums where the games will be held are built with the blood, sweat and tears of tens of thousands of migrant workers, including from Nepal. Many migrants have suffered injuries or lost lives to unexplained causes, and many more have been victims of wage theft and illegal recruitment fees.
On 20 September, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and FairSquare called on all of FIFA’s corporate partners and sponsors of the World Cup to press the football association and the Qatari government to compensate migrant workers and their families who suffered while preparing for the tournament.
This call, uniting players, fans, workers and activists, comes as a new global opinion poll shows that 66% of those surveyed, and 72% of those likely to watch at least one World Cup match, said that corporate partners and sponsors should publicly call on FIFA to compensate workers.
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The poll was commissioned by Amnesty International, carried out by YouGov, and surveyed 17,477 adults in 15 countries including Argentina, Germany, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, UK and the USA.
Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and FairSquare wrote to FIFA’s 14 corporate partners and World Cup Sponsors in July, urging them to call on the football body to compensate workers whose wages were stolen, who were injured, and to families of those who died building stadiums and hotels, roads and the metro rail necessary for the world’s largest sporting event.
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Four partners — ABInBev/Budweiser, Adidas, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s — have stated their support for financial compensation and to explore how best to build upon the progress being made in Qatar to further expand access to effective remedies for migrant workers.
The other ten, including Visa, Hyundai-Kia and Qatar Airways, have offered no public support and have not responded to written requests to discuss tournament-related abuses, despite their policies to respect human rights and environmental, social, and governance standards in their operations and business relationships, says the statement.
“Brands buy rights to sponsor the World Cup because they want to be associated with joy, fair competition and spectacular human achievement on the playing field — not rampant wage theft and the deaths of workers who made the World Cup possible,” says Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch (HRW).
But with only two months until the tournament, she adds, sponsors should use their considerable leverage to press FIFA and Qatari authorities to fulfill their human rights responsibilities. FIFA has not yet committed to remedy abuses maintaining that it is still considering the proposal.
“It is clear what the public and their customers want the corporate sponsors to do,” says Stephen Cockburn, head of economic and social justice at Amnesty International: “Stand up for workers’ rights in Qatar and demand compensation for every worker that has suffered to make this tournament happen.”
A global campaign called #PayUpFIFA has also been launched by HRW, calling on the international football governing body FIFA to provide adequate remedy and to avoid the legacy of what they call a ‘World Cup of Shame’.
International Labour Organisation estimates 50 foreign labourers have died and more than 500 others seriously injured in Qatar in 2021. But many more thousands have also lost their lives during construction of other infrastructure for the World Cup. In fact, at Kathmandu airport the coffins of migrants arrive on flights from Doha, and the same planes take off with more workers.
In recent years, Qatar has introduced a series of important reforms following a forced labour complaint at the International Labour Organisation. These include lifting the abusive exit permit requirement for most workers, allowing migrant workers to change jobs before the end of their contracts without first obtaining their employer’s consent, and a new law establishing a non-discriminatory basic minimum wage for all workers.
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Nonetheless, human rights experts note, serious labour exploitation persist and past abuses have not been adequately remedied. Significant implementation and enforcement gaps remain. For example, workers who have already left Qatar cannot access the labour committees or a fund established to pay them when their employers fail to do so.
In awarding the 2022 World Cup without imposing any conditions to avoid foreseeable labour rights abuses and subsequently failing to take timely and effective preventive measures, FIFA is accused of contributing to the widespread abuse of migrant workers on World Cup-related projects that followed.
Compensation can have far-reaching benefits to migrant workers and their families. To this effect, rights groups are calling on FIFA and Qatar to reserve an amount at least equivalent to the US$440 million prize money provided to teams participating in the tournament that can be invested to compensate workers and to improve their protections.
“There is nothing Qatar or FIFA could ever do to make up for the loss of a loved one,” says Nick McGeehan, a founding director of FairSquare, which investigates migrant labour abuses. “But financial compensation to struggling families for migrant worker deaths could provide some respite and potentially reduce lasting harm.”