FIFA : Make the World Cup a Fair Game for Workers

In an open letter addressed to Mr Blatter, President of FIFA, FIDH calls on him to ensure that preparations for the World Cup in Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022 are respectful of human rights of workers.

Workers employed on construction projects to prepare for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, most of whom are migrant workers, face numerous human rights violations, according to FIDH. In a letter sent today to the President of FIFA, Mr. Joseph Sepp Blatter, FIDH recalled the sports organisation’s responsibility to investigate and remedy reports that workers are being subject to unfair payment practices, excessive work hours, racist violence, and work conditions that can amount to forced labour.

As the governing body of the world’s most popular sport, FIFA must use its powerful leverage to make sure that countries use the opportunity of hosting the World Cup in a way that lives up to the universal values that the sport embodies and promotes,” said Karim Lahidji, President of FIDH.

Protesters in Brazil have taken to the streets to denounce, among other social ills, massive expenditures on the World Cup while the country’s basic infrastructure and services go abysmally neglected. FIFA should take these protests as an important reminder that the success of the games depends on respect for broader social values. But recent comments from the organisation’s top officials suggest a profound absence of an institutional commitment to human rights, despite earlier rhetoric to the contrary. FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke’s comment at a symposium in April that less democracy is sometimes better for organizing a World Cup is extremely disconcerting. Of particular concern to workers rights for the 2018 World Cup, he added that he anticipates organization to go more smoothly in Russia, where there is a strong head of state.

Construction for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is already under way. Ninety-four percent of the workforce in the country are migrant workers, mainly from South and East Asia. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) estimates that to prepare for the games Qatar will recruit one million more. Working conditions for migrant workers, including projects associated with the World Cup, are so poor they can at times amount to forced labour. Such practices include debt bondage, confiscation of passports by employers, overcrowded and unsanitary labour camps, the absence of employment contracts and arbitrary salary deductions.

There is also real risk of workers dying while constructing facilities for the World Cup due to up to fifty-degree heat in the summer, which has proven fatal in the past. According to the Nepali embassy in Qatar, 191 Nepali workers died from these working conditions in 2010, and another 162 died in the first ten months of 2011. Migrant workers in Qatar are also barred by law from forming trade unions.

In November 2011, Mr. Valcke acknowledged the need to address labour concerns in Qatar. FIFA upholds the respect for human rights and the application of international norms of behaviour as a principle and part of all our activities, he said in an official statement. However, the arrest of eight Mauritians and international trade union representatives during a legal protest outside the FIFA Congress in Mauritius demanding a re-run of the vote awarding Qatar the 2022 World Cup in light of its labour abuses suggests that FIFA has a lot of work to do in order to safeguard human rights norms in practice.

FIFA should also care about workers’ rights in Russia: workers constructing the infrastructure for the 2018 World Cup, most of whom are migrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus, are subject to multiple labour abuses. In particular, workers often face excessive working hours and unfair payment practices, such as partial or non-payment of wages or excessive delays in payment. Some employers also retain workers’ identity documents or don’t provide employment contracts. Migrant workers in Russia are particularly vulnerable, as they often face systemic discrimination, xenophobic violence, and even “debt bondage,” where they are forced to work to repay the costs of their travel.

Migrant workers are also often denied their right to freedom of association. While Russia has ratified all the eight core conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the state regularly interferes with attempts to form trade unions, particularly in the case of migrant workers. Recent crackdowns have placed further restrictions on freedom of association, assembly and expression in Russia, and a new law makes it more difficult for NGOs to operate there. Furthermore, FIDH notes that people living in the area of the new infrastructure also may suffer from the new construction. In the past, there have been many instances of expropriations and forced evictions linked to major sports events, often accompanied by unfair compensation or the substitution of unsuitable housing.

The many human rights abuses documented demand a swift and effective response from FIFA, Lahidji said. The games must be fair not only for the players, but for all the people who have contributed to making them possible.

Lahidji added: The problems are known and FIFA has publicly acknowledged its responsibility to address them. What FIFA must do now is deliver on its commitments so that fans can watch the games confident that they are not tainted by exploitation.

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