A new report by global human rights organisation Amnesty International has exposed systematic abuse against migrant workers building the 2022 World Cup stadium. While concerns over human rights in Qatar are nothing new, the country is clearly worried about news of such abuses reaching the rest of the world — as evidenced by the arrest of a BBC crew in 2015.
In 2010 FIFA awarded the wealthy nation the privilege of hosting the 2022 World Cup. The Gulf state swiftly embarked on massive construction projects to build the infrastructure necessary to host the tournament. Projects included the extensive refurbishment of the Khalifa International Stadium, one of Qatar’s main sporting venues. Khalifa is situated in the Aspire Zone, a public area with a number of sporting fields and facilities.
“For players and fans, a World Cup stadium is a place of dreams. For some of the workers who spoke to us, it can feel like a living nightmare,” said Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty.
Amnesty International carried out its research between February 2015 and February 2016, during which time they visited Qatar three times and interviewed 234 men. Researchers visited labour camps where the men lived, reviewed documentation on projects they worked on, and met with organisations responsible for delivering the 2022 World Cup.
Amnesty’s report, The Ugly Side of the Beautiful Game:Exploitation of migrant workers on a Qatar 2022 World Cup site, was published on March 30 and identified more than 100 migrant workers who said they were subjected to human rights abuses by the companies they worked for. The harrowing investigation uncovered a range of exploitative practices forced upon migrant workers building the Khalifa Stadium and Aspire Zone.
Migrant workers, mainly from South Asia, make up 90% of Qatar’s workforce. Despite initial estimates that 1,200 have died since construction began, actual numbers are thought to be much higher. Some were subjected to forced labour and all of those interviewed were forced to take out loans to pay high recruitment fees. Many were made deceptive promises about the wages and type of work available.
Long hours in the blazing heat and low pay are a daily ordeal for thousands who cannot leave the country without an exit visa. According to the report, some had their passports confiscated and many were housed in squalid labour camps in dirty and cramped accommodation. Many reported being threatened for complaining about their conditions.
Despite the Qatari authorities’ responsibility to protect migrant workers from human rights abuses, Amnesty claimed that when confronted, the government’s response was apathetic. In a one page statement in response to Amnesty’s inquiries, the government said:
“In general, the questions detailed in your letter relate to alleged abuses of the rights of workers employed by individual companies involved in the construction of World Cup sites, and the companies’ various subcontractors. All of these companies are required to obey Qatari laws with regard to their labour practices.”
The Amnesty report noted “The government did not address the fact that the companies clearly have not obeyed Qatari laws, and made no reference to any plans to follow-up on the cases or the evidence of unlawful activity.” Rather, authorities pointed to several examples of measures they’ve taken to improve conditions — efforts that have evidently fallen short.
As the report observed:
“The government’s response raises serious questions about Qatar’s willingness to protect the rights of the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers living the country. If abuse on a flagship World Cup project does not merit investigation and action, it is unlikely abuses that do not attract the international spotlight will be dealt with in an effective manner.”
After presenting evidence of the human rights abuses to FIFA, the researchers said the world’s football governing body did not engage with any of the specific abuses — nor did FIFA suggest they would address them. As a result, the human rights organisation has called foul play and concluded FIFA has failed to demonstrate a genuine commitment to ensuring that workers rights on World Cup sites are not abused.
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