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Worker Abuse Alleged at World Cup Site

Monday, October 7, 2013

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As Qatar races to construct projects needed to host the world’s most popular sports tournament in 2022, the small Gulf state faces disturbing allegations regarding its treatment of millions of migrant workers.

Four thousand construction workers could die before a ball is kicked at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, according to an international labor organization.

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 International Trade Union Confederation 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 resulted in numerous worker fatalities.

Reports indicate that 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 (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) 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 released 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 have 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.”

Many of the Nepalese workers reportedly toppled 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 there are no plans to strip Qatar of the right to host the competition, as many labor rights groups had hoped.

FIFA headquarters
Marcello Casal / ABr / Wikimedia Commons

FIFA officials say they cannot get involved in labor issues but also could not ignore the allegations regarding the 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.

   

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

Comment from john lienert, (10/7/2013, 9:31 AM)

life is cheap


Comment from Richard Hogue, (10/8/2013, 9:21 AM)

FIFA "cannot get involved in labor issues"? But they have no problem reaping millions of Euros in profit from the games.


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