by Human Rights’ Watch‘s Minky Worden

In this excellent piece published in Newsweek, Human Rights Watch’s Director of Global Initiatives explains why FIFA’s latest promise is only masquerading as progress. 

With six years to go until the opening whistle of the 2022 World Cup, preparations are moving at a feverish pace here in Qatar and will soon reach peak construction.

With a dozen stadiums to be constructed or revamped, Qatar’s World Cup, with an estimated $200 billion in infrastructure, will be the most expensive ever. The human cost is already the steepest ever, and unless FIFA and Qatar take urgent steps to reform now, risks climbing even higher.

“By announcing a new body to protect workers, FIFA gets to look like they’re taking the issue seriously—without having to put any pressure on the Qataris to actually take it seriously.”

The problem is that the stadiums, transit and infrastructure for the World Cup are being built not by the few hundred thousand citizens of this tiny but oil-wealthy emirate, but by the one million migrant workers who came here to discover that they are working in unsafe conditions—and that they can’t leave without the approval of their employers.

Unless the situation changes quickly, the 2022 World Cup will send a grim message for the millions of fans who attend, the more than a billion expected to watch and the corporate sponsors who invest in the World Cup: a football tournament is more important than the lives of the workers, largely from South Asian countries such as Nepal, India and Bangladesh, who are building stadiums and infrastructure.

Long hours, poor working conditions, and the country’s extreme heat provide the context for a problematic pattern of hundreds of fatalities attributed to “sudden death” or cardiac arrests, which the authorities have refused to investigate. In March, a report by Amnesty International—the organization’s third on this topic since 2013—called out FIFA’s “shocking indifference” to widespread abuses, including squalid living conditions.

Migrants in construction toil in heat up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, in a workweek that is usually six days long, and sometimes seven. Workers typically pay exorbitant recruitment fees, and employers regularly take control of their passports when they arrive in Qatar. Many migrant workers say that their employers fail to pay their wages on time or in full.

Qatar’s kafala, or sponsorship, system ties the legal residence of migrant workers to their employer. The system also requires foreign workers to obtain exit permits from their sponsors. This gives employers the power to arbitrarily block their employees from leaving Qatar and returning to their home country—and makes it impossible for workers to complain of abuse without fear of reprisal. Qatar has yet to enact meaningful reforms to this labor system despite pledges to do so and years of sustained criticism.

As one of his last acts as FIFA president—and doubtless to help repair the reputational harm from the group’s corruption scandal—Sepp Blatter hired Harvard’s John Ruggie to put in place a policy on human rights. Mr. Ruggie is the architect of the U.N.’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which require companies to take effective steps to avoid, mitigate and remedy human rights abuses linked to their operations. Ruggie issued a bluntly worded report in April that said: “The purpose of identifying human rights risks is to do something about them,” and attracted headlines by saying FIFA should “consider suspending or terminating” its relationship with World Cup hosts who fail to fix abuses.

In a sign international pressure is working, FIFA just launched a body to “oversee the treatment of workers on Qatar’s World Cup stadiums.”

But the problem in Qatar and on World Cup construction isn’t a lack of oversight. Stadium workers are already subject to supplementary protection on top of the local labor law, so this will be a third tier of protection. The problem remains a lack of political will to implement reforms and make protections fully effective. The greatest contribution FIFA can make is to help generate that political will by applying genuine pressure on the Qataris.

Unfortunately, FIFA’s new leader Gianni Infantino did precisely the opposite when visiting the country for the first time in late April. “I can’t see any reason why they won’t host 2022. They will host it,” Infantino said in Doha. By announcing a new body to protect workers, FIFA gets to look like they’re taking the issue seriously—without having to put any pressure on the Qataris to actually take it seriously…

[read full article at Newsweek]

This changes everything: Out of FIFA’s turmoil comes a game plan to comply with commitment to respect human rights

ITUC Secretary General Sharan Burrow writes in the Huffington Post

When FIFA made a commitment to align itself with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, no one could imagine how the crisis-ridden organisation could deliver on that promise.

Into the gap between rhetoric and reality stepped John Ruggie, the Harvard Professor and former assistant secretary general at the United Nations, who developed the very principles which FIFA had committed to uphold.

An advisory contract between FIFA and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, where Ruggie teaches, was agreed as FIFA’s top leadership were arrested or deposed and while thousands of workers who are building the 2022 World Cup facilities and infrastructure are virtually imprisoned in the slave state of Qatar.

Forced to live in squalor with poor quality food and often inadequate amounts of clean water workers in Qatar are paid poor wages and often not paid for months on end. No worker can leave an unsafe or abusive work environment or even exit the country without the employer’s permission.

FIFA knew all of this when it ignored alleged corruption in the voting practice and awarded the World Cup to Qatar. They didn’t care and for five years have ignored any responsibility for demanding an end to the Kafala system of modern slavery and for ensuring the respect for human and labour rights that the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights upholds.

FIFA stood by and watched the vital infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup including roads, rail lines, hotels, malls all be constructed or maintained by the use of men and some women who had no freedom, were denied fundamental rights and aretreated as less than human.

But today the report by John Ruggie for FIFA lays out their responsibility for respecting human rights.

Ruggie’s straight talking language which has brought together the sometimes incompatible world of business and human rights has defined for FIFA’s elected officials, staff and member organizations exactly what human rights means.

Internationally recognized human rights include rights to life and physical security, non- discrimination, rights to freedom of thought, expression and religion, freedom of assembly and of movement, rights to education and work, to family life and privacy, to food and water, freedoms from torture, slavery or forced labor, as well as rights to fair and decent working conditions, including freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively.”

This could change everything.

read the full article here

British Companies accused of human rights abuse in Qatar

British companies and their Qatar-based subsidiaries are accused of confiscating passports, switching contracts, providing overcrowded accommodation and using kafala to trap workers in abusive conditions.

That’s the finding of a new investigation by the Guardian‘s Pete Pattison, who’s been one of the most active journalists in exposing the terrible conditions faced by workers in Qatar in advance of the 2022 World Cup.

The report, which spoke to workers from BK Gulf, co-owned by Balfour Beatty, and Gulf Contracting Company (GCC), co-owned by Interserve, shows that conditions under the auspices of British companies are little or no better than those faced by the rest of the construction workforce.

Balfour Beatty is one of the UK’s most famous construction companies, having been involved in the Docklands Light Railway, the Channel Tunnel,  the Cardiff Bay Barrage and the current Crossrail project.  Interserve is highly visible in the UK, running many contracted-out public services.

Neither firm can work independently in Qatar, as local laws say companies must work in partnership with a local company that owns 51% of the business. This does not reduce their responsibility to take effective steps to ensure that no abuse of human rights is found in their sub-contracting arrangements.

Conditions of debt bondage – where workers have paid so much in fees to secure work and then paid so little that they have no choice but to keep working no matter what conditions they face – were reported, as well as exploitation of kafala (the sponsorship law which gives Employers power over their workers’ movements) to keep workers from leaving the country. Together, the two abuses throw up the severe risk that workers are suffering forced labour, for which Qatar has been referred to the International Labour Organisation and given a year to eradicate.

Both companies responded that they were inspecting their supply chains to ensure that standards were upheld, but given the ease with which The Guardian’s team uncovered transgressions it seems that British companies are little better than the Qatari authorities when it comes to making sure that workers are properly protected: not surprising when the workers themselves are only asked for their opinion when the journalists are in town.

UK companies have a responsibility under the OECD Guidance for Multinational Enterprises to respect the right of workers to form or join a trade union and to bargain collectively. Trade union membership for migrant workers is outlawed by Qatari law, but there’s nothing to stop companies consulting workers and allowing them a collective voice. It’s high time British companies started setting the standards needed to deliver change.

The Guardian has also released this video showing migrant workers being excluded from parts of Doha and turned away from Qatari “family areas” – a reminder than the mistreatment of workers is not just about how they might die, but how they live.

Ashington Football Club host TUC rally in support of Qatar World Cup workers

(England cricket legend and Ashington FC manager Steve Harmison joined the protest)

The Northumberland club hosted a rally in support of a campaign led by a national trade union the TUC ahead of its match with Penrith

says the Chronicle Live

A non-league football club in Northumberland has backed a campaign to raise awareness of alleged abuses of workers preparing Qatar for the 2022 World Cup.

Northern League side Ashington Football club on Tuesday night hosted a rally as part of the TUC union’s nationwide Playfair Qatar campaign… [read more]

The fight for workers’ rights knows no borders

Playfair Qatar

Playfair Qatar is the British TUC’s contribution to the global campaign seeking better lives and internationally recognized – properly enforced – workers’ rights for Qatar’s desperate migrant workforce.

We are very proud of our role in the Playfair 2012 alliance which saw not only an incredibly safe London Olympics, but also unprecedented agreements by suppliers to ensure that workers’ rights were respected in their supply chains, no matter where in the world they were working. Qatar may not be on our doorstep like London 2012, but while a love of football knows few national borders we still have some responsibility. Britain gave the world football, as well as trade unions… [read more]


This article first appeared on Progress ( on 8 June

New PR strategy switched on as Qatar co-opts critics

Last year, Channel 4 ran an expose of a football blog called The Pressing Game. The blog, supposedly a grass-roots affair, had the odd celebrity contributor and a wide-ranging subject matter. C4 had noticed, however, that a recurring theme was cricism of anyone – from the FA to Gary Linekar – who had criticised Qatar’s custody of the 2022 World Cup tournament.

What they found was that The Pressing Game had been created by a communications company that had been retained by the Qatar government. Although one celebrity contributor, Alistair Campbell, defended the blog and accused Channel 4 of pursuing an “uber non-story”, just a few months later seems to have vanished off the face of the internet, which – it could be argued – is a teensy bit suspicious.

Perhaps Qatar’s PR targets have shifted from attacking their critics to co-opting them. We’ve noticed a Twitter rebuttal from Amnesty International’s Gulf migrant researcher Mustafa Qadri, recently returned from a research mission, against a couple of Qatar news outlets.  Starting with the “somewhat selective quoting” by MEED (formerly Middle East Economic Digest), Mr Qadri refuted the claim that he had suggested that “criticism of the treatment of workers in Qatar is unfair” but merely that some criticism of Qatar is “simplistic, stereotyped and unfair”, which may well be true. What he certainly didn’t say was that all  or even much criticism is unfair, and illustrated his point by setting the record straight via Doha News and unleashing a series of tweets blasting Qatar’s inaction…

…which sound a little bit like criticism to us.

So Mustafa’s 15k Twitter followers at least know the real situation; that didn’t then stop the Qatar Tribune from giving the strategy a second airing, their optimistically titled story “Amnesty hails Ministry of Interior’s human rights record” prompting further outrage from Amnesty’s man in the field.

Now, we have no indication that either of these acts of gross misrepresentation were part of an official strategy and they could just be editorial incompetence on the part of the particular publications, but Qatar’s PR operations don’t seem to lack gall. Hopefully Mr Qadri’s forceful corrections will make those responsible think twice before they try it again.

Fifa’s real crime with Qatar 2022 is ignoring the workers’ plight

The Independent’s Chief Football Correspondent, Sam Wallace, keeps the focus on the most important of the 2022 World Cup’s issues.

The BBC Newsnight team investigating the 1.5 million migrants employed in Qatar on building World Cup 2022 infrastructure were hustled out of the squalid workers’ accommodation outside Doha by angry security men in the time-honoured fashion in December. But not before they had made some disturbing connections between the dreadful conditions workers had to live in and one big British construction company in particular… [READ MORE]

Death toll among Qatar’s 2022 World Cup workers revealed

From the Guardian

By Owen Gibson & Pete Pattisson

Despite Qatar’s promises to improve conditions, Nepalese migrants have died at a rate of one every two days in 2014

“If fatalities among all migrants were taken into account the toll would almost certainly be more than one a day”

Nepalese migrants building the infrastructure to host the 2022 World Cup have died at a rate of one every two days in 2014 – despite Qatar’s promises to improve their working conditions, the Guardian has learned.

The figure excludes deaths of Indian, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi workers READ MORE


Qatar 2022: Construction firms accused amid building boom

BBC Newsnight carried a superb piece on conditions in Qatar and international complicity in them. The iPlayer piece is (currently) here  Below is an article with an embedded, shorter, video.

By Sue Lloyd-Roberts

The 2022 Qatar World Cup is all about money.

Claims that millions of dollars were paid in bribes to secure the world’s biggest football tournament for Qatar refuse to go away.

Qatar is spending more than £200bn ($312bn) on a building bonanza ahead of the tournament.

Everyone seems to be getting rich, except those at the bottom of the human supply chain, the migrant worker. READ MORE