The FIFA World Cup, a routine opportunity for unity and sportsmanship, has been marked by exploitation and considerable human cost for this year’s tournament in Qatar.
This highly anticipated occasion, kicking off on 20th November, has seen the widely-documented mistreatment of workers tasked with the event’s extensive preparations. Evidence of forced labour and modern slavery has continually emerged from across several job fields: from construction to cleaning, hospitality to private security, workers have been subjected to excessive demands, forfeits, and negligence, which in several thousand cases has even cost lives.
Human rights abuses & workers in modern slavery
Since being awarded the 2022 World Cup back in 2010, Qatar has carried out rapid and substantial infrastructure work to make the event possible. As such, over 12 years, it has drafted in large numbers of international workers to complete similarly large tasks, including the massive construction of 8 football stadia.
Many workers have faced considerable labour exploitation and shocking working conditions in the face of these tasks. An early report published by the Guardian shed light on workers being subjected to modern slavery. The report takes the experience of specifically Nepalese workers, unable to leave their job, being left unpaid for several months at a time, being denied access to drinking water in the sweltering desert sun, and dying at roughly a rate of one worker per day. Some workers, as a last resort bid to free themselves of their brutal conditions, even sought refuge in the Nepalese embassy in Doha, Qatar’s capital.
Similar experiences have been reported by thousands more over the years. It has been tragically common for workers to be forced into dangerous, chronically low paid roles. In the construction industry alone, official reports state that at least 6,500 people have tragically lost their lives. With concerns from the UN over how reliably mortality figures have been logged, the real figure is likely to be much higher. Furthermore, across many sectors, workers are often met with threats of their pay being unjustifiably withheld. This is on the backdrop of many workers being charged exorbitant fees to secure the job in the first place, driving people into debt and further unable to leave their jobs.
Slow progress in industry reform
In the face of mounting international pressure, Qatar pledged to reform its labour standards to the international standard in 2017, signing an agreement with the UN International Labour Organisation (ILO). Since then, the country has introduced a number of labour laws designed at safeguarding workers’ rights and well-being. These included:
- Permitting workers to change jobs at their own free will, when previously permission from the employer was required.
- Introducing fines against employers who withhold payment.
- Establishing a tribunal allowing for workers to log complaints about their employers.
- Introducing regulations to ensure workers’ safety at the workplace, for example restricting working hours during the hottest parts of the day.
However, ILO reports in 2020 and 2022 show that despite the introduction of these reforms, the rights of workers are still being ignored by employers:
- Since 2019, US$ 320 million has been demanded in fines from employers by the Qatari government for unpaid workers’ wages.
- In the summer of 2021, 338 workplaces had their operations shutdown for failing to adhere to regulations regarding working in hot conditions. This figure increased to 463 workplaces in summer 2022.
- Between October 2021 and October 2022, over 34,425 complaints were made by workers regarding their employers, many relating to unpaid wages.
Whilst the introduction of regulations is a nudge in the right direction, it is clear that these regulations are doing very little. Exploitation and negligence from employers remains high; it is the systematically disadvantaged workers who bear this unjust brunt.
An urgent need for change
From kick off to final whistle, the legacy of this exploitation cannot be ignored. The enjoyment that many will have over the course of the nail-biting competition comes at a considerable price to thousands of people’s lives. This should not be the case. Workers the world over should be treated with dignity, their rights maintained, and their humanity recognised.
Here, at Hope For Justice, we continue to work to intervene and support those who have survived injustice of this kind, as well as seeking to further prevent incidents of slavery and trafficking. Case studies such as this sadly reinforce the need for this kind of work, as well as call for considerable change. With profits forecast at US$ 17 billion from the tournament, the need for awareness and systemic change feels all the more stark.
Together, we can bring exploitation like this to an end. Together, we can end modern slavery.