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4,000 Workers May Die Ahead of Qatar World Cup

Imagine 2050 Staff • Dec 04, 2013

The decision by FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, to host the 2022 World Cup in Qatar has been rife with controversy since its announcement in 2010. Concerns over athlete safety in the country’s sweltering summers and allegations of bribery were levied immediately after the announcement. Two years later, concerns have increased. While those and other concerns remain, focus has largely shifted towards the treatment of migrant construction workers currently building the infrastructure required to host an event the size of the World Cup. The Guardian first reported on the issue in September, revealing the harsh conditions migrant construction workers face. “The overall picture,” the report claimed, “is of one of the richest nations exploiting one of the poorest to get ready for the world’s most popular sporting tournament.”

Amnesty International further investigated the situation and revealed its findings in a November report, “The Dark Side of Migration: Spotlight on Qatar’s Construction Sector Ahead of the World Cup.” The report notes that there are 1.3 million migrants currently working in Qatar on ambitious construction projects including the construction the Lusail City development, which will include a 90,000 seat stadium to host the World Cup final. These migrant workers primarily come from South and Southeast Asia and comprise 94% of the Qatar’s workforce. As noted in its introduction, Amnesty’s report details many all-too-common examples of worker abuse including:

  • Workers arriving to find that the terms and conditions of their work are different to those they had been promised during the recruitment process. This includes salaries being lower than promised.
  • Workers having their pay withheld for months. And in some instances, not being paid at all.
  • Employers leaving workers “undocumented” and subsequently at risk of being detained by the authorities.
  • Migrant workers having their passports confiscated by employers – preventing them from leaving the country.
  • Workers being made to work excessive (sometimes extreme) hours and employers failing to protect workers’ health and safety adequately.
  • Squalid housing conditions for workers. Some accommodations even lack access to running water.

These conditions stem from Qatar’s system of sponsored labor laws which tie workers to their employer. The New York Times reported last week that these conditions affect all workers – soccer players as well as workers building the stadiums they compete in have experienced the effects of Qatar’s labor laws.

Tragically, as the Guardian reported, the abuses have simply proved too much for some workers in Qatar. According to documents obtained from the Nepalese embassy in Qatar, at least 44 workers died this summer. The International Trade Union Confederation estimates that death tolls could reach nearly 600 annually – nearly a dozen per week – unless these worker conditions are addressed. Should these estimates prove accurate, nearly 4,000 workers will have died before the opening kick of the 2022 World Cup.

Outside organizations and companies have reviewed The Guardian and Amnesty International’s findings and have responded accordingly. Companies in Qatar have begun improving housing conditions for workers. Unfortunately, those companies only oversee housing and cannot improve actual work-site conditions. Ensuring that workers are not exploited is the responsibility of the Qatari government. FIFA also must leverage its influence to pressure the government to improve conditions.

All workers, regardless of their country of origin and industry, have the right to a humane, safe workplace. The workers currently enduring such tragic abuses in Qatar are no exception. Every four years, The World Cup brings the world together in celebration. To have that spirit of celebration built on a foundation of worker abuse and exploitation is indefensible and must be addressed.


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