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Amnesty International highlights ‘appalling treatment’ of workers building Qatar World Cup stadia
A new report from Amnesty International slams Qatar for not living up to promises to improve conditions of migrant workers building stadiums for the FIFA 2022 World Cup.
Despite five years of growing criticism, world football governing body FIFA and the Qatari authorities have been accused of ongoing indifference towards systemic abuse and “appalling treatment” of migrant workers and a inability to properly implement adopted policies.
The Amnesty International report, which interviewed 132 contractors working on refurbishing the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha and a further 102 landscapers who work in the Aspire Zone sports complex that surrounds it, claimed that they all reported human rights abuses of one kind or another.
The findings will prove controversial because Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy has made ensuring minimum standards are met on FIFA World Cup stadium projects a priority in the wake of widespread criticism of the broader conditions in which migrant labourers, who make up more than 90% of Qatar’s 2.1 million population, live and work.
For the first time, Amnesty said it had definitively identified mistreatment and abuses on a FIFA World Cup stadium site rather than on infrastructure projects that underpin Qatar’s ambitious 2030 Vision, of which the football tournament has become an integral part.
It said that workers refurbishing the Khalifa Stadium, scheduled to host one of the World Cup semi-finals in 2022, reported they were forced to live in squalid accommodation, appeared to pay huge recruitment fees, and have had wages withheld and passports confiscated.
Amnesty conducted the interviews during three visits over the course of a year from February 2015.
Qatari law prohibits retention of passports, delayed payment of wages or deceptive recruitment (where workers are promised a certain wage in their country of origin only to be paid less when they arrive). But Amnesty found evidence that all of those practices remained widespread during the period in question.
The number of labourers working directly on World Cup stadiums increased from 2,000 to 4,000 in the past year and is expected to grow to 36,000 in the next two years.
The Amnesty report alleges that while the organising committee has introduced welfare standards there are “significant gaps in application” and its efforts have been undermined by indifference from FIFA and apathy from the Qatari authorities.
Of the men interviewed, Amnesty’s report found that the vast majority alleged they had their passports confiscated, 88 had been denied the right to leave Qatar, many reported their wages being paid three or four months in arrears and there was evidence that some workers on the stadium contracted to a labour-supply company “appear to have been subjected to forced labour”.
It said that there was evidence of workers being threatened with non-payment of wages, being deported or - conversely - not being allowed to leave Qatar because their employer would not provide an exit permit.
It claimed all the men interviewed had taken out loans to pay for recruitment-related fees, often to agencies in their home country. The practice is forbidden by Qatari law but remains widespread.
One metalworker on the stadium told Amnesty in April 2015 “my life here is like a prison. The work is difficult, we worked for many hours in the hot sun. When I first complained about my situation, soon after arriving in Qatar, the manager said, ‘If you want to complain you can, but there will be consequences. If you want to stay in Qatar, be quiet and keep working.’ Now I am forced to stay in Qatar and continue working.”
Amnesty concluded that the human rights abuses it documented were the result of “multiple failures” and that while there had been a belated focus on the quality of workers’ accommodation by some of the companies involved, they have done little to address other well-documented issues such as deception in the recruitment process.
Amnesty International Director General Salil Shetty stated “the abuse of migrant workers is a stain on the conscience of world football.
“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.
“Indebted, living in squalid camps in the desert, paid a pittance, the lot of migrant workers contrasts sharply to that of the top-flight footballers who will play in the stadium. All workers want are their rights: to be paid on time, leave the country if need be and be treated with dignity and respect.”
The report is particularly critical of FIFA’s failure to exert pressure on the Qatari authorities and a “lack of meaningful action to address the issue”.
The crisis-hit world football governing body has only now promised to “formalise its human rights due diligence process”, vowed to change its FIFA’s World Cup bidding rules and has commissioned Harvard’s Professor John Ruggie to write a report on its human rights standards.
The Amnesty report concludes its “actions and omissions offer little hope that FIFA plans to do all it can to ensure that the 2022 World Cup will leave a positive legacy and not a trail of human misery”.
Shetty added “despite five years of promises, FIFA has failed almost completely to stop the World Cup being built on human rights abuses.”
In 2013, the Qatari Government promised to overhaul the kafala system that ties workers to their employers, reform the exit permit regime and introduce new laws that required payment to workers to be made electronically.
In May last year, Amnesty accused the Qatari government of “promising little, delivering less” and has said the promised reforms to the kafala system do not go far enough.
In its new report, it concludes “the (Qatar) Government’s response raises serious questions about Qatar’s willingness to protect the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers living in the country. If abuse on a flagship World Cup project does not merit investigation and action, it is unlikely abuses that do not attract the international spotlight will be dealt with in an effective manner.”
In its response to Amnesty, FIFA pointed out the achievements of the supreme committee in introducing minimum welfare standards, the commitment by the new FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, to integrate labour rights specifically into the bidding process for the 2026 World Cup and the formation of a 2022 FIFA World Cup sustainability working group.
FIFA’s Head of Sustainability, Federico Addiechi stated “while FIFA cannot and indeed does not have the responsibility to solve all the societal problems in a host country of a FIFA World Cup, FIFA has taken concrete action and is fully committed to do its utmost to ensure that human rights are respected on all FIFA World Cup sites and operations and services directly related to the FIFA World Cup,” said Fifa’s head of sustainability, Federico Addiechi.
A FIFA spokesman added that dialogue over improvements to workers welfare was a “ongoing process”.
Click here to view the Amnesty International report.
Images (from top): The planned Al Bayt Stadium; the Amnesty International logo; migrant workers in Qatar and Qatar's Aspire Zone.
11th February 2016 - ASPIRE ZONE AT THE HEART OF QATAR NATIONAL SPORT DAY CELEBRATIONS
28th February 2016 - BAHRAIN’S FOOTBALL DEFEAT: A CAUTIONARY TALE FOR AUTOCRATS
6th August 2015 - QATAR TO IMPLEMENT LABOUR REFORMS BY END OF YEAR
6th February 2015 - QATAR ASKS FOR TIME TO IMPLEMENT LABOUR REFORMS
12th July 2013 - QATAR INVESTS US$200 BILLION FOR 2022 FIFA WORLD CUP
14th March 2013 - WORLD LEADING STADIA CONFERENCE RETURNS TO QATAR
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