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Report: World Cup Push Risks Workers

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

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Construction workers' safety and lives are being sacrificed to Qatar's dash to build infrastructure and venues in time for the 2022 World Cup, the world's largest trade union organization charges.

Four thousand migrant workers could die before the games open in the wealthy Gulf state, according to the International Trade Union Confederation, which represents 174 million workers in 156 countries and territories.

Khalifa Stadium
daly3d abd / Wikimedia Commons

Numerous reports are alleging mistreatment of migrant workers building stadiums and other projects for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Government officials deny the allegations but say they are investigating.

The Belgium-based organization is calling on FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) to choose another host country for the 2022 games.

ITUC says migrant workers from Nepal, India and other South Asian and African countries working on World Cup projects have been subjected to brutal and unsafe working conditions that have claimed numerous lives.

Qatar plans to spend as much as $200 billion on construction projects to prepare for the World Cup. Those projects include a new airport, roads, metro system, hotels and 12 air-conditioned stadiums.

400 Lives Lost, Group Says

In a Sept. 27 news release, the international labor organization expressed frustration with FIFA and Qatari officials over the working conditions.

The group puts the death toll of migrant workers at 400 each year and warns that the number “could rise to 600 a year, unless the government makes urgent reforms,” says Sharan Burrow, general secretary of ITUC.

ITUC / YouTube

The alleged plight of migrant workers is reported in this video by the International Trade Union Confederation.

Burrow told CNN: “[The workers are] forced to live in squalor, they are indeed pushed to work in extreme heat, often left without enough water for very long hours, and then they go home to cook food in unhygienic conditions, live 8, 10, 12 to a room, and even if they want to leave, if they've just had enough, they can't go because the employer has to sign an exit visa or sign the papers to allow them to work for a better employer.”

Qatari Officials Investigating

Qatari government officials have denied the allegations of “brutal working conditions, long hours, lack of food and pay and squalid living quarters,” according to The Guardian.

Hassan al-Thawadi, secretary general of the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee, told CNN that he was outraged by the claims made by the unions and others, but said that it took time to develop and enforce labor-rights laws in the rapidly developing country.

He added that government officials were investigating the matter.

“It’s not a World Cup being built on the blood of innocents,” Al-Thawadi further said in a press conference Friday (Oct. 4). “This is unacceptable to anybody. We will be eradicating these issues.”

Nepalese Deaths

The Guardian reported that 70 Nepalese workers had died since 2012 while working on construction sites in the lead-up to the competition. The report cites Nepal government officials in Doha, the capital of Qatar.

The figure is the “clearest official data on the dangers facing 1.2 million migrant workers in the Gulf kingdom during the […] construction drive.”

Workers sleeping on floor
ITUC / YouTube

Workers enlisted for World Cup construction sleep on the floor in this ITUC video report.

Many of the Nepalese workers reportedly fell to their deaths from upper floors of buildings, officials said.

Modern-Day Slavery Alleged

In an earlier report, relying on documents obtained by the Nepalese embassy, the newspaper reported that 44 Nepalese workers died between June 4 and August 8, 2013. The report likened the workers' conditions to modern-day slavery, as defined by the international labor organization. 

Ali bin Samikh Al-Marri, chairman of Qatar’s national human rights committee, called The Guardian's information false and its numbers exaggerated.

“There is no slavery or forced labor in Qatar,” he told reporters at a press conference.  

“There have been some problems, owing to the fact that there are 44,000 businesses in the country. But I can assure you that the authorities are constantly making efforts to resolve the problems.”

FIFA Addresses Claims

Those allegations were among several issues addressed Friday (Oct. 4) by the FIFA Executive Committee in Zurich, Switzerland. But FIFA says it has no plans to strip Qatar of the games.

FIFA headquarters
Marcello Casal / ABr / Wikimedia Commons

FIFA officials say they cannot get involved in labor issues but are not ignoring the allegations regarding worker conditions in Qatar.

“The FIFA World Cup 2022 will be played in Qatar,” said FIFA President Sepp Blattar, according to BBC.

“There you have it.”

FIFA said the organization could not get involved in labor issues, but also could not ignore the allegations.

“I express all my sympathy and regret for anything that happens in any country where there are deaths on construction sites, especially when they are related to a World Cup,” he told members of the media in a press conference.

Burrow said in a statement that Qatar was using workers as "forced labor" on the project.

"FIFA has the power to make workers' rights a condition of Qatar hosting the 2022 World Cup," she told Reuters.

"There is still time to re-run the vote to choose a venue which respect workers."


Tagged categories: Construction; Fatalities; Health and safety; Stadiums/Sports Facilities; Unions; Workers

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