By Richard Jolly
FIFA is being urged to “send a strong public message that it will not tolerate human rights abuses on construction projects related to the World Cup”. GettyImages
Amnesty International has called on FIFA to take a tougher stance with 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar over the “inexcusable” treatment of migrant workers and said it amounts to forced labour.
The human rights organisation has urged football’s governing body to act now to prevent further abuse of workers who are subjected to poor and dangerous working conditions, given inadequate accommodation, not paid or prevented from leaving Qatar.
Amnesty said that they are exploited by sub-contractors used by the major construction companies and believes migrants building the stadia for the 2022 World Cup could be similarly mistreated.
An Amnesty report entitled “The Dark Side of Migration: Spotlight on Qatar’s construction sector ahead of the World Cup” highlights the plight of poor immigrants in the Gulf state.
It said some are living without running water or exposed to overflowing sewage tanks and others have been threatened with deportation and loss of income. The report also features accounts of workers who had become suicidal.
Amnesty International’s general secretary, Salil Shetty, said: “It is simply inexcusable in one of the richest countries in the world that so many migrant workers are being ruthlessly exploited, deprived of their pay and left struggling to survive.
“Our findings indicate an alarming level of exploitation in the construction sector in Qatar. FIFA has a duty to send a strong public message that it will not tolerate human rights abuses on construction projects related to the World Cup.
“Many migrants arrive in Qatar full of hopes, only to have these crushed soon after they arrive. There’s no time to delay — the government must act now to end this abuse.
“Construction companies and the Qatari authorities alike are failing migrant workers. Employers in Qatar have displayed an appalling disregard for the basic human rights of migrant workers. Many are taking advantage of a permissive environment and lax enforcement of labour protections to exploit construction workers.
“Companies should be proactive and not just take action when abuses are drawn to their attention. Turning a blind eye to any form of exploitation is unforgivable, particularly when it is destroying people’s lives and livelihoods.
“The world’s spotlight will continue to shine on Qatar in the runup to the 2022 World Cup offering the government a unique chance to demonstrate on a global stage that they are serious about their commitment to human rights and can act as a role model to the rest of the region.”
In response, Amnesty International received a letter dated October 9, 2013, from FIFA vice-president Jerome Valcke, in which he wrote: “The topic of labour rights and working conditions in Qatar was included by our president in the agenda of the recent FIFA Executive Committee meeting held in Zurich on October 3/4. As a result, Mr Blatter will once again bring this matter to the attention of Qatar’s highest authorities.
“In previous official statements and in communication with human rights organisations in the past, FIFA has made very clear that we uphold the respect for human rights and the application of international norms of behaviour as a principle and part of all our activities. FIFA shares and understands Amnesty International’s efforts towards social justice and respect for human rights and dignity, which are very much anchored in the statutes and purpose of our organisation.
“We firmly believe in the positive power that the FIFA World Cup can have in Qatar and in the Middle East as a great opportunity for the region to discover football as a platform for positive social change, including an improvement of labour rights and conditions for migrant workers.
“Despite the current main focus of our work being the 2014 and 2018 World Cups in Brazil and Russia, we will strengthen our exchanges with the Qatar 2022 Local Organising Committee and will continue to promote dialogue between them, the Qatari Ministry of Labour, ILO and civil liberty organisations. It is FIFA’s aim that the host countries of our flagship event ensure healthy, safe and dignified working conditions for all — nationals and foreigners, including construction workers — involved in the preparation of the event.”
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