With only four years left until kick off at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, violations of workers’ rights are still a key concern for the international human rights community. FIFA aims to expand the tournament from its current eight stadium, 32-team tournament, to a 48-team tournament. This planned expansion would require the building of two more stadiums in the region, bringing Qatar’s poor record for workers’ rights into question once again. So far, over 1,200 workers have died and thousands of others have faced abuses such as forced labour, poor working conditions, and withheld payment, while working on building of the tournament facilities.
FIFA and human rights
In a report published in March 2019, Stephen Cockburn, Deputy Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International, warned that FIFA must put human rights at the forefront of any talks of expansion.
“There are clear human rights risks associated with adding new hosts for the 2022 World Cup, not least the potential widespread exploitation of migrant workers providing construction and other services for the World Cup that could cast a major shadow over the world’s biggest sporting event,”
FIFA President Gianni Infantino is hoping to secure approval on expansion plans from members in June this year. On 27 April 2019, Secretary-General of FIFA, Fatma Samoura, gave a statement to Amnesty and other human rights groups, assuring them that human rights commitments will be fulfilled. Samoura said,
“this process also includes an assessment of human rights risks and potential opportunities associated with a possible expansion.”
She went on to say,
“FIFA has been engaging closely with its Qatari counterparts over the past four years to foster such progress in the area of labour rights but also with respect to other human rights-related areas of relevance to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.”
Human rights violations and deaths
A total of over 1,200 workers have died due to poor working conditions in Qatar. During the summer of 2013, Nepalese workers died at a shocking rate of almost one a day, many of them young men who had sudden heart attacks.
In September 2018, the plight of 78 workers from Nepal, India and the Philippines was revealed by an Amnesty investigation that documents a number of workers who have been trapped in labour camps without pay. In another separate case first reported in May 2018, a group of 1,200 workers went unpaid for several months and went weeks without running water or electricity.
According to the UN’s International Labour Organization, Qatar is set to abolish its controversial exit visa system for all foreign workers by the end of 2019. In September 2018, Qatar approved legislation to scrap the “kafala”, or sponsorship, and by October 2018 the policy went into force for 5% of a company’s workforce. This policy meant the end of the requirement for some workers to seek the permission of their employers before leaving the country.
However, despite Qatar having begun this reform process to tackle exploitation and “align its laws and practices with international labour standards”, workers are still vulnerable to serious rights abuses including forced labour and restrictions on freedoms.