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FIFA Fiasco; Qatar Labor Concerns

Aired October 3, 2013 - 16:24   ET



MAGGIE LAKE, HOST: Good evening, I'm Maggie Lake in New York. This is QUEST MEANS BUSINESS. We will keep you up-to-date on the shooting on Capitol Hill throughout the hour. First, though, we must update you on the rest of the day's news.

The 2022 World Cup in Qatar is proving to be an almighty mess for FIFA. In the nearly three years since it awarded the Gulf state the right to host the tournament, FIFA has faced a barrage of criticism over its suitability.

Today, senior football officials started two days of talks focusing on two main concerns. Summertime temperatures can reach 50 degrees Celsius in Qatar. That's led to calls for the tournament to be switched to the winter. The suggestion is causing chaos in the football calendar.

There's also controversy over the conditions of migrant workers in Qatar, with allegations of slavery-style treatment at some of the World Cup projects. Dozens of trade union activists gathered outside FIFA's headquarters in Zurich to rally against those claims.

They delivered a letter to FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, calling on football's world governing body to ensure fair labor practices. FIFA says it is taking the matter seriously.


WALTER DE GREGORIO, FIFA SPOKESMAN (through translator): We have to take it seriously, and I think that the government in Qatar are taking it seriously. They came to us looking to discuss it a long time ago, and the discussions are continuing. And I personally am convinced that we will have different conditions in Qatar in the future to the ones which we have at the moment.


LAKE: Well, here joining us to talk about that issue is Guy Ryder from the ILO. Guy, thank you so much for being with us today. I want to talk to you about the situation. The Qatar officials say that they're addressing it. First tell me, though, how widespread is this problem of forced labor? Is this something that we're seeing right now specific to the World Cup, or is it broader than that in the country?

GUY RYDER, DIRECTOR-GENERAL, ILO: In Qatar in specific terms, you have to understand, this is a country where 95 percent of workers come from other countries. So, you've basically got a migrant labor economy.

And there are certainly major problems. We have the specific system called the kafala system whereby workers coming into the country have to be sponsored by a Qatari national, and they're not able to move between jobs. That's one problem.

There are no organizing rights in Qatar, either. And this has given rise to the allegations that we've seen. The immediate allegations, of course, relate also to health and safety issues, effect a serious number of fatalities on the constructions sites. They're a major difficulty.

LAKE: And of course, the spotlight is on them because of the World Cup.

RYDER: Sure.

LAKE: And officials there, they've said that they're doubling the number of inspectors, that they've hired more translators to deal with some of the complaints. Part of the problem is the language barrier. Is that a step in the right direction? What do they need to do? Or do you think that's just whitewashing the issue?

RYDER: We've been out to Qatar, I think, five times since the beginning of last year to look at different issues: their recruitment practices, their health and safety, there's labor inspection. Now, we think a lot of progress needs to be made. It's encouraging that the Qatari authorities say that they're willing to look into the allegations that have been made and address them.

LAKE: Have yous seen any tangible improvements so far?

RYDER: On paper, yes.

LAKE: On paper?

RYDER: There have been some measures taken on paper. But I think, really, we're faced with an implementation problem, and I think that not just the Qatari authorities, the contractors who are involved in construction for the World Cup, we all need to get involved. And the ILO stands ready to add its contribution to the overall effort.

And the amazing thing about this problem is it is eminently fixable. This is not a big economy. There are a limited number of principal contractors involved, and resources are not lacking.

LAKE: That's what I was going to ask you. Sometimes when we're dealing with these issues, as we've seen in other countries, they're impoverished states, there is an issue with corruption, there is an issue with transparency.

RYDER: Sure.

LAKE: That would appear not to be the hurdle here, at least in terms of the resources.

RYDER: Resources are absolutely there. They just need to be used, and the necessary political will needs to be applied. Sure, there's need for some expertise as well. That's available, too.

And I think if everybody picks up their responsibilities -- that is to say, FIFA, the Qatari authorities, the contractors, and of course the ILO will play its role -- we can get this fixed and we can get it fixed before more lives are lost on the construction sites. It's doable and it should be done.

LAKE: And speaking of that, this issue of conditions for migrant workers, for people looking for -- it's much broader than that, isn't it?

RYDER: Sure.

LAKE: As we saw play out so horribly with the tragedy -- with the boat tragedy in Italy.

RYDER: Absolutely. The news from Lampedusa this morning is absolutely dramatic. They're are 232 million migrant workers around the world, and the numbers are growing. The crisis is not going to stop that.

The demographics mean we're going to be faced with more and more migrant workers in our societies. They need to be treated right. We need a rights-based system to make sure that what happened Lampedusa is not repeated, what has apparently happened on Qatari construction sites is stopped.

And again, this is going to require a major international effort. But I repeat, it's perfectly doable. We just have to do it.

LAKE: We do. And coming at a time -- a backdrop where the economy not helping the situation either. Guy Ryder from the ILO, director- general, thank you so much for joining us today, talking about this very important issue facing us.

RYDER: Thank you.

LAKE: And QUEST MEANS BUSINESS will be back after this break.