Foul Play

Last month, Playfair Qatar released our campaign video showing the unfairness and injustice at the heart of the push to get Qatar ready to host the 2022 World Cup.

Of course, as much as we hope the film gets the point across, there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface.  If you want to know more about the problems raised in the film, here’s a further look at some of them.

“Thousands of workers are building all over the country to prepare”

Qatar’s population consists of around 300,000 Qataris and 2.2million foreign workers. Many of these workers have been brought in specifically to work on projects required to host the World Cup, including hotels and transport, as well as stadiums. In the year Qatar were awarded the World Cup hosting rights, the population doubled. The numbers continue to rise rapidly, with another half a million workers expected in Qatar this year.

Qatar’s World Cup bid was a fundamental part of its strategy to develop and grow, with the World Cup final planned to take place in a city, Lusail, that hasn’t even been built yet.

“To be ready for football’s greatest tournament”

Just as some of the development would have happened without the World Cup, though, the World Cup could not have happened without the development. And the deadline of 2022 puts additional pressure on construction companies. As FIFA’s human rights consultation Prof John Ruggie writes in his report on human rights:

“The pressure to meet deadlines increases as the event approaches [and] may heighten risks to workers’ rights where major construction is required, including to workers’ health & safety.”

By conflating the World Cup with their own development plans, the government of Qatar made the development of their country inherently more rapid and dangerous than it could have been, therefore FIFA – having awarded the tournament despite this – has responsibilities that go way beyond what happens on stadiums.

“If workers have to get hurt in the process, there’s no one to protect them”

Qatar has been routinely criticised, for example by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) for the conditions in which its ‘guest’ workers work and live. Although the numbers are belatedly increasing, until recently Qatar had only 300 labour inspectors to check on its millions of workers. As well as the tragic fatalities, there are even more injuries, many of them serious, with workers reliant on their employers to access medical care.

Of death and injury, the ITUC predicts that 7,000 migrant workers will die across all projects in Qatar before the World Cup. They go on to say:

“Migrant workers are dying and getting injured in Qatar in the lead up to the FIFA 2022 World Cup. That fact is beyond doubt.

What’s harder to say exactly is the number of work-related fatalities, injuries, and illness, due to the Qatari government’s refusal to publish statistics or allow independent investigations into the reasons why a thousand fit young migrant workers are dying each year.”

Qatar’s labour courts, under-resourced and overburdened, can supply compensation for workers if their case is resolved, but employers hold all the cards. Workers cannot work while their case is examined, unless their own employer allows it. Nor can they return home. They are charged fees in excess of a month’s salary just to lodge a case. In many cases workers are forced to resort to borrowing from friends for food just to survive. In some cases the employers report the workers for absconding – leaving employment without their permission – and the workers are arrested and sent to the detention centre, where they can remain for months without representation. The authorities do not connect the allegation with the complaint made to the courts, and the employer is always believed.

Finally, workers are denied their fundamental human rights when it comes to protecting themselves. Unions for migrant workers are banned, and any strike action is usually crushed swiftly. Not only does Qatar fail to take action at the top to help workers, it denies them the means by which they could ensure their own safety.

“Laws in place… only enforced against one side”

Qatar’s willingness to use the law to deprive workers of protection is in direct contract to their unwillingness to make employers take responsibility. There are a number of laws in Qatar which, in enforced, would make conditions marginally less bad: laws exist against working at the hottest part of the day in summer and against confiscating passports (see below), but these hardly ever result in action by the authorities. Laws against overcrowding in workers’ dormitories are also flouted, contributing to the squalor of these frequently appalling accommodation sites that also suffer from lack of fresh water, poor sewage and inadequate ventilation.

Conversely, the state will arrest workers accused of absconding and detain or deport workers involved in union activity.

“Bosses can trap them in Qatar”

Qatar uses a ‘sponsorship’ system for foreign workers. Called ‘kafala’ it makes employers completely responsible for their workers. While in theory this gives employers responsibility to feed, house and protect their employees, in reality it means that workers are effectively owned by their bosses. They cannot change jobs or leave the country without permission, they have no right to bargain over pay or conditions: even workers’ residency papers are controlled by their employers, which means in some cases workers are essentially limited to life in workers’ accommodation and the construction sites.

In response to criticism, Qatar promised to abolish kafala. However, the legislation brought in does nothing to change any of these problems. Indeed, where previously you needed the approval of your employer to leave the country, now you need the agreement of both your employer and the government. Only those workers who were trapped by negligence (i.e. their own employers had absconded to avoid debts, leaving their workers stranded) will be helped, while rules forcing workers to stay with one employer for two years were actually made worse. Employers can now force workers to stay with them for five years.

“FIFA … the rights of workers”

Having bought a bad World Cup, FIFA has the responsibility to fix it. Under Sepp Blatter, FIFA refused to take any responsibility for the lives of workers, instead putting all the blame on the construction companies. Under Infantino, FIFA has instigated a “monitoring” regime that will check whether Qatar is living up to its own promises to give special treatment to stadium workers after an Amnesty Report found that conditions there were as bad as anywhere else in the country.

As Human Rights Watch said:

“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.”

Against the recommendation of Prof Ruggie, FIFA has already refused to use its influence to force Qatar to grant improved rights to workers in Qatar, abandoning its responsibility to take steps to protect the lives and human rights of the people delivering its own product, the 2022 World Cup, and giving Qatar comfort that it can proceed with business as usual.

“It’s a Rigged Game”

To make things worse, many workers arrive in Qatar already in debt to disreputable recruitment agencies. Again, charging fees from workers is illegal in Qatar and yet goes unpunished, leaving workers incredibly vulnerable. Although Qatar’s government says they have taken action, many workers still arrive in Qatar with debts to recruiters, and existing debts among the working population means thousands of workers have to do whatever their bosses say, including working in extreme danger, or risk destitution or detention.

Qatar’s propaganda in countries sending workers means that tens of thousands will keep arriving and falling into the same trap, in turn guaranteeing that Qatar can deliver on its promise to FIFA, while completely failing those doing the work.

“Underpaid and effectively owned”

Debt bondage is even more serious when workers have little to no chance of ever paying it off. Workers in Qatar are paid according to their country of origin, which means if they came from a poor country, their wages in Qatar will also be low. Investigations two years ago found people working in construction for the equivalent of only 45p on hour, trying to pay off debts of more than £600. To make things worse, workers are routinely promised around 30% more in pay than they actually get, but of course, once they arrive in Qatar there’s absolutely nothing they can do about it.

As stated above, kafala – even under ‘reforms’ – means that bosses have incredible power over workers. Not only can they stop them working for anyone else, they control their passports, their identify papers and hold them in debt bondage. No matter how outrageously workers are treated, they can’t even go home.

If you have no choice but to work, no control over your hours or conditions, aren’t allowed to leave your accommodation and don’t actually make any money, what does that make you?

“Thousands will be injured, and many will die”

7,000 migrant workers, mostly young, fit men, may lose their lives in Qatar before the World Cup. No matter what proportion of them are or aren’t working on facilities needed for 2022, FIFA runs the serious risk of a World Cup that cost the lives of thousands of men, and yet has consistently ruled out taking strong action against Qatar.

What more does it take?

“Football is meant to be the beautiful game”

FIFA has already trashed world football’s reputation over corruption, but this is even worse. If FIFA does nothing to force Qatar’s hand, football will be complicit in the deaths of thousands. If the London Olympics could be delivered with no deaths on site and only two on infrastructure, then Qatar – with a smaller population than London – should be able to build the World Cup without the deaths of hundreds and thousands.

Fans and players should have a voice in how their game is run. It’s time to tell FIFA that – as custodians of our game – we’re not going to let football be associated with death and exploitation.

“Let’s tell FIFA it’s time to play by the rules”

FIFA commissioned a report on human rights. Professor John Ruggie, a human rights expert formerly with the UN, produced a report with wide-ranging recommendations for future bids, but also for Qatar and Russia.

So far, FIFA have indicated they may take action to prevent this happening in the future but have explicitly ruled out intervening in Qatar.

It’s not good enough.

We’re telling FIFA to play by the rules its own report has laid down.