Migrant workers building Khalifa International Stadium in Doha for the 2022 World Cup have suffered systematic abuses, in some cases forced labour, Amnesty International reveals in a new report published today.
The report, The ugly side of the beautiful game: Exploitation on a Qatar 2022 World Cup site, blasts FIFA’s shocking indifference to appalling treatment of migrant workers. The number of people working on World Cup sites is set to surge almost ten-fold to around 36,000 in the next two years.
“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,” said Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty.
“Despite five years of promises, FIFA has failed almost completely to stop the World Cup being built on human rights abuses.”
Severe abuses including forced labour
The report is based on interviews with 132 migrant construction workers rebuilding Khalifa stadium, set to be the first stadium completed for the tournament and slated to host a World Cup semi-final in 2022. A further 99 migrants also interviewed were landscaping the green spaces in the surrounding Aspire Zone sports complex, where Bayern Munich, Everton and Paris Saint-Germain trained this winter.
Every single gardener and construction worker who spoke to Amnesty International reported abuse of one kind or another, including:
• squalid and cramped accommodation,
• paying large fees ($500 to $4,300) to recruiters in their home country to get a job in Qatar,
• being deceived as to the pay or type of work on offer (all but six of the men had salaries lower than promised when they arrived, sometimes by half),
• not being paid for several months, creating significant financial and emotional pressures on workers already burdened with heavy debts,
• employers not giving or renewing residence permits, leaving them at risk of detention and deportation as “absconded” workers,
• employers confiscating workers passports and not issuing exit permits so they could not leave the country,
• being threatened for complaining about their conditions.
Amnesty International uncovered evidence that the staff of one labour supply company used the threat of penalties to exact work from some migrants such as withholding pay, handing workers over to the police or stopping them from leaving Qatar. This amounts to forced labour under international law.
The workers, mostly from Bangladesh, India and Nepal, spoke to Amnesty International in Qatar between February and May 2015. When Amnesty International researchers returned to Qatar in February 2016, some of the workers had been moved to better accommodation and their passports returned by companies responding to Amnesty International findings, but other abuses had not been addressed.
“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,” said Salil Shetty.
Qatar’s sponsorship system leaves workers threatened, living in fear
Qatar’s kafala sponsorship system, under which migrant workers cannot change jobs or leave the country without their employer’s (or “sponsor’s”) permission, is at the heart of the threats to make people work. A much-touted reform of the sponsorship system, announced in late 2015 will do little to alter the power dynamics between migrant workers and their employers.
Some of the Nepali workers told Amnesty International they were not even allowed to visit their loved ones after the 2015 April earthquake that devastated their country leaving thousands dead and millions displaced.
Nabeel (name changed to protect identity), a metal worker from India who worked on the Khalifa stadium refurbishment, complained when he was not paid for several months but only received threats from his employer:
“He just shouted abuse at me and said that if I complained again I’d never leave the country. Ever since I have been careful not to complain about my salary or anything else. Of course, if I could I would change jobs or leave Qatar.”
Deepak (name changed to protect identity), a metal worker from Nepal, said:
“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’.”
World Cup Welfare Standards not enforced
Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the organization responsible for World Cup 2022 and ultimately for stadium construction published Workers’ Welfare Standards in 2014. They require companies working on World Cup projects to deliver better standards for workers than are provided for under Qatari law.
“The Supreme Committee has shown commitment to workers’ rights and its welfare standards have the potential to help. But it is struggling to enforce those standards. In a context where the Qatari government is apathetic and FIFA is indifferent, it will be almost impossible for the World Cup to be staged without abuse,” said Salil Shetty.
Time for FIFA and sponsors to up the pressure
Amnesty International is calling on major World Cup sponsors like Adidas, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s to pressure FIFA to address the exploitation of workers on Khalifa stadium, and disclose its plan for preventing further abuses in World Cup projects.
FIFA should push Qatar to publish a comprehensive reform plan before World Cup construction peaks in mid-2017.
Essential steps include removing employers' power to stop foreign employees from changing jobs or leaving the country, proper investigations into the conditions of workers and stricter penalties for abusive companies. FIFA itself should carry out, and publish, its own regular independent inspections of labour conditions in Qatar.
“Hosting the World Cup has helped Qatar promote itself as an elite destination to some of the world’s biggest clubs. But world football cannot turn a blind eye to abuse in the facilities and stadiums where the game is played,” said Salil Shetty.
“If FIFA’s new leadership is serious about turning a page, it cannot allow its showcase global event to take place in stadiums built on the abuse of migrant workers.”
Facilities at the heart of world football
Khalifa stadium is part of the Aspire Zone sports complex, whose Aspire Academy training and Aspetar medical facilities have been used by some of the world’s biggest football clubs.
“Some of world football’s biggest stars may already be training on pitches grown and maintained by exploited migrant workers. They could soon be playing in stadiums built by them too,” said Salil Shetty.
“It is time for football’s leaders to speak out or be tainted by association, be they global football brands like Bayern Munich and PSG or major sponsors like Adidas and Coca-Cola.”