Suit Filed for Qatar World Cup Labor Exploits

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 25, 2023


More than three dozen construction workers have reportedly sued a United States construction firm over allegations of inhumane conditions and violating human trafficking laws during the construction of the Qatar World Cup stadiums.

“Our clients allege they were exploited and abused, that they were convinced to go to Qatar based on lies, and that they were coerced to work despite being denied humane living and working conditions,” said Eli Kay-Oliphant, a lawyer at Sparacino, one of the law firms representing the laborers.

World Cup Project Background

In 2010, the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) awarded the tournament to Qatar. Since then, reports indicate that the country was taking steps to improve its existing employment practices. This included eliminating the kafala employment system, which tied workers to their employers, who had a say over whether they could leave their jobs or even the country.

A few years into the project, in 2013, the small Gulf state faced 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, said an international labor organization at the time.

In a statement, the International Trade Union Confederation claimed migrant workers from Nepal, India and other South Asian and African countries working on World Cup projects had been subjected to brutal and unsafe working conditions that have resulted in numerous worker fatalities.

It further estimated that the death toll of migrant workers could reach up to 400 each year and warned that the number “could rise to 600 a year, unless the government makes urgent reforms,” said Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of ITUC.

At the time, 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 government officials denied the allegations of “brutal working conditions, long hours, lack of food and pay and squalid living quarters,” according to The Guardian. In another report, the publication found that 70 Nepalese workers died since 2012 while working on construction sites in the lead-up to the competition. The report cited Nepal government officials in Doha, the capital of Qatar.

Ali bin Samikh Al-Marri, Chairman of Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee, called The Guardian's information false and its numbers exaggerated.

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.

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

In 2014, worker welfare standards were formally drafted.

And while it would seem that these arguments settled in the years to follow and that Qatar wouldn’t be stripped of its rights to host the competition, in 2017 a 40-year-old British worker fell to his death. An investigation was launched as a result of the incident.

Media outlets reported at the time that the victim was a subcontractor’s employee, citing Midmac-Six Construct, the joint venture working as the main contractor on the project at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha.

The victim was the fifth worker to die on Qatar’s World Cup projects, reports said. However, the death was only the second deemed as a “work-related incident,” by Qatari officials, according to the Associated Press. The other victim was believed to have been struck by a water truck at the Al Wakrah Stadium in October.

The following yearPaintSquare Daily News reported that one of Zaha Hadid’s last designs was almost completed, with a video showing the progress of Qatar’s Al Wakrah Stadium. The 40,000-seat venue would hold the 2022 World Cup games and was slated to be completed by the end of 2019’s first quarter.

The structure was commissioned by the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (the group responsible for the stadiums and infrastructure for the 2022 FIFA World Cup), and reportedly just needed some finishing touches on interior finishes, the roof and the facade at the time.

On May 16, 2019, the Zaha Hadid-designed Al Wakrah stadium held an official opening ceremony, followed by an inaugural match. The project was carried out by Patrik Schumacher and team, Zaha Hadid Architects.

Earlier that same year, designs were released for the final venue of the 2022 World Cup. Lusail Stadium, with a capacity of 80,000, would be the largest of the tournament, hosting the opening and closing matches.

Construction Deaths

Then, in a December 2022 interview with British journalist Piers Morgan, a top Qatari official involved in the country’s World Cup organization shared that “between 400 and 500” workers died as the result of construction for the tournament.

Morgan hosted an interview with Hassan al-Thawadi, the Secretary-General of Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy. During the discussion, al-Thawadi “appeared to come off the cuff.”

When asked by Morgan about the realistic total of migrant worker deaths as the result of World Cup-related projects, he responded: “The estimate is around 400, between 400 and 500. I don’t have the exact number. That’s something that’s been discussed.”

Previously, the actual number hadn’t been discussed publicly by Qatari officials. However, prior reports from the Supreme Committee dating from 2014 through the end of 2021 only include the number of deaths of workers involved in building and refurbishing the stadiums now hosting the World Cup.

According to those reports, the total number of deaths was 40, of which 37 were described as nonwork incidents and three from workplace incidents. In a separate report, one worker’s death was reportedly caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

At the beginning of that month, reports indicated that the Qatar Supreme Committee had issued a statement following the interview, claiming that the cited statistic mentioned by al-Thawadi had actually applied to all sectors and nationalities.

Latest Lawsuit

A recent Wall Street Journal report found that the civil complaint was filed earlier this month in a U.S. District Court in Denver.

The lawsuit reportedly alleges that construction services firm Jacobs Solutions and its subsidiaries illegally profited from their participation the project that relied on “forced and trafficked labor to build the tournament’s facilities from scratch.”

The suit also details alleged abuses against the plaintiffs, including confiscated passports, requirements to work 36 or 72 hours straight, crowded housing, limited water in extreme heat, insufficient food and limited access to medical care.

In a statement, Jacobs said it had not yet been served with the lawsuit or had the opportunity to review the allegations. 

“As a purpose-led company, we are committed to respecting the human rights and dignity of those within our operations and where we do business,” the company said. “In all projects across the 40-plus countries in which we operate, we have prioritized health, safety and wellbeing, partnering with clients and suppliers to develop innovative approaches that improve the lives of workers and other stakeholders.”

A representative for Qatar could not be reached to comment, the WSJ wrote.

Additionally, the plaintiffs are seeking unspecified monetary damages under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which targets forced labor, involuntary servitude and other forms of human trafficking. 

   

Tagged categories: Accidents; Construction; Contractors; EU; Fatalities; Good Technical Practice; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Labor; Lawsuits; Middle East; Program/Project Management; Projects - Commercial; Stadiums/Sports Facilities; Workers

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