Claims of ongoing exploitation of migrant workers in Qatar
Amnesty says it has found evidence of "systematic abuses"
Report urges FIFA and sponsors to push for change
He’s the migrant worker busting a gut to build Qatar’s shiny soccer stadiums that will host FIFA’s World Cup in 2022 – at a price.
For Prem – a metal worker and father of three from Nepal who carried out work on the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha between February and May 2015 – that price was the loss of his family’s home after he experienced a three-month delay in being paid, according to Amnesty international.
Prem is just one example of ongoing exploitation of migrant workers in Qatar at a venue for the 2022 World Cup that soccer’s world governing body FIFA can no longer turn “a blind eye” to, says the human rights organization’s new report published Thursday.
Amnesty said it has found evidence of “systematic abuses,” including forced labor of migrant workers at the Khalifa Stadium.
“If the system in Qatar doesn’t change, then every man, woman and child who goes to the World Cup is likely to meet a migrant worker who is exploited,” Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty’s director of global issues and research, told CNN in a phone interview.
‘Ugly side of the beautiful game’
Amnesty’s 80-page report, titled “The ugly side of the beautiful game: Labor exploitation on a Qatar World Cup venue,” is based on interviews in the year to February 2016 with 234 male migrants working either in construction at the Khalifa Stadium or in landscaping at the Aspire Zone Complex, where top European soccer clubs such as Bayern Munich, Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain have trained.
The abuses found include: workers living in “squalid and cramped accommodation”; employers confiscating workers passports; workers being threatened for complaining about working conditions; workers having to pay as much as $4,300 to recruiters in their home country to get a job in Qatar, along with some not being paid for months.
However Qatar said the “tone of Amnesty International’s latest assertions paint a misleading picture.”
“We have always maintained this World Cup will act as a catalyst for change – it will not be built on the back of exploited workers,” said the gulf kingdom’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy in a statement sent to CNN. “We wholly reject any notion that Qatar is unfit to host the World Cup.
“Amnesty International’s investigation was limited to just four companies out of more than 40 currently engaged on Khalifa International Stadium. The conditions reported were not representative of the entire work force on Khalifa.
“Many of the issues raised had been addressed by June of 2015, months before the publication of Amnesty’s report.”
The FIFA World Cup is the world’s most-watched sports event, generating more than $5 billion from broadcast and marketing contracts.
Since winning the bid in 2010, Qatar is spending a reported $200 billion – more than any previous World Cup host – on infrastructure, nine new air-conditioned stadiums and major refurbishments on three venues, including the 40,000-capacity Khalifa stadium.
“The abuse of migrant workers is a stain on the conscience of world football,” Amnesty International General Secretary Salil Shetty said in the organization’s press release.
“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,” Shetty said.
FIFA and its sponsors should push for change, or risk being “tainted by association,” Amnesty warned.
Qatar’s migrant workers, mostly from South Asia, make up more than 90% of the country’s workforce. Building for the 2022 World Cup is expected to peak in 2017, when the current workforce of 4,000 migrants on World Cup sites will jump to 36,000, according to FIFA.
This is Amnesty’s fifth investigative, in-depth report on migrant workers conditions at World Cup venues in Qatar, and the first since Gianni Infantino was elected FIFA president in February. He has vowed to restore the ruling body’s battered reputation after years of corruption scandals under his predecessor, Sepp Blatter.
“We remain convinced that the unique attraction and visibility of the FIFA World Cup globally is a strong catalyst for significant change,” FIFA said in a statement sent to CNN in response to Amnesty’s latest report.
“This is an ongoing process. Challenges remain, but FIFA is confident that the structures and processes set up so far by the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, which is the entity responsible for the delivery of FIFA World Cup infrastructure, provide a good basis to monitor labor rights of migrant workers on FIFA World Cup stadium construction sites.”
In a letter sent to Amnesty dated March 17, FIFA said “we do not agree” with the group’s conclusion it had taken no action to tackle human rights abuses of workers at World Cup sites.
Without addressing any of the individual cases of abuse highlighted by Amnesty, FIFA pointed to a number of initiatives, including making labor rights part of its bid process for future events, meetings with “the highest authorities in Qatar” since 2011 about human rights issues, inspection visits of building sites and workers housing and its hiring of a so-called “Human Rights Manager” at its Zurich headquarters.
‘Serious job do to in Qatar’
Amnesty said Qatar has yet to deliver any real labor reforms since becoming the first Middle East nation to win the right to host the World Cup.
Although Amnesty said Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, which is responsible for delivering the 2022 World Cup, had shown “consistent commitment” to improving workers’ rights, it wasn’t doing enough to monitor and enforce its own welfare standards established in 2014.
It said it was down to FIFA to enforce real change.
“FIFA need to recognize they have a serious job do to in Qatar,” Gaughran told CNN. “There needs to be much more effective enforcement of the worker welfare standards that exist for World Cup sites, because our research has shown that they’re not being implemented effectively at all.”
FIFA should also ask Qatar to reform its notorious sponsorship system, under which migrant workers cannot change jobs or leave the country without permission of their employers.
“There is a very serious problem with the sponsorship system that keeps workers very much tied to their employers,” Gaughran added. “FIFA needs to engage with Qatar on that and it is probably quite reluctant to do so.”
The human rights agency called on World Cup sponsors including Coca-Cola, Adidas and McDonald’s to put FIFA under pressure to improve the situation.
Last year, Coca-Cola and Visa issued statements saying they expected FIFA to address such claims of human rights abuses.
‘I can’t sleep at night’
Metal worker Prem’s problems started in September 2014.
“At the start of 2014 there was no problem, I was getting my monthly pay and sending back money to my wife to cover my (recruitment) loan and the rent for our house (in Nepal),” he told Amnesty. “We also look after my parents.”
But because he wasn’t getting paid, Prem’s family could no longer keep up with loan and rental repayments and ended up losing their home.
“My family is now homeless and two of my younger children have been taken out of school,” he said. “My parents had to shift to my brother’s house in our village, but it is far and there are no facilities there.
“Every day I am in tension, I cannot sleep at night. This is a torture for me.”