Abuse of migrant workers at Qatar World Cup stadiums continues despite reforms, report says

Migrant workers constructing stadiums for the upcoming FIFA World Cup continue to endure labor exploitation and human rights violations despite recent reforms in Qatar, according to a new report from an international human rights research group.

In the past two years, migrants from Africa and Asia working on the eight new stadiums suffered abuses — including wage theft, physical assault and inadequate nutrition — at the hands of major construction firms, the 95-page report from Equidem found.

The World Cup organizing committee denies the allegations.

Context: Qatar was chosen in 2010 as the site of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, becoming the first country in the Middle East to host the tournament. But the small, wealthy nation has faced fierce international scrutiny for its treatment of more than two million migrant workers hired to construct facilities for the event, spurring the Gulf country to start enacting a series of labor reforms in 2017.

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Report: Violations of workers' rights at FIFA World Cup stadiums continue

Investigations by Equidem between September 2020 and October 2022 documented "significant labour and human rights violations" at all eight stadiums, according to the report.

Researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 60 migrant workers employed across the stadiums and spoke to a total of 982 workers. Many hail from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, among other nations.

The report found violations at the stadiums included "illegal recruitment charges, nationality-based discrimination, unpaid wages, exposure to extreme heat and other health and safety risks, overwork and workplace violence."

People work at Lusail Stadium, one of the 2022 World Cup stadiums, in Lusail, Qatar, Friday, Dec. 20, 2019.
People work at Lusail Stadium, one of the 2022 World Cup stadiums, in Lusail, Qatar, Friday, Dec. 20, 2019.

World Cup construction firms "actively evaded labour inspections" and created a "captive and controllable workforce amounting to forced labour," according to the report. Many workers were exposed to COVID-19, the report found.

Qatar began making reforms to its "kafala," or sponsorship, system in 2017. On paper, the reforms mean migrant workers are allowed to change jobs, leave the country at will and file complaints with labor courts. There's also a minimum wage that isn't tied to prevailing wage in the country of origin.

"FIFA and the government of Qatar frequently point to reforms when faced with criticism towards the coming World Cup. Our research has found that beyond the smokescreens, workers are still subjected to racism, discrimination, and abuse without any real accountability," Equidem CEO Mustafa Qadri said in a statement.

Asked about the report, FIFA said it was in contact with Qatari counterparts "to assess the information" in the Equidem report.

The Supreme Committee of Delivery and Legacy, the World Cup organizing committee, said the report is "littered with inaccuracies and misrepresentations" and is "an egregious attempt to undermine and damage" the committee's reputation.

"We are committed to delivering the legacy we promised. A legacy that improves lives and lays the foundation for fair, sustainable, and lasting labour reforms," the Supreme Committee said in a statement Thursday.

'We did not get the salary we were promised'

Anish Adhikari, a soccer fan from a remote district in eastern Nepal, said he traveled to Qatar in 2019 to work on the iconic Lusail Stadium, where the tournament final will be played.

"We did not get the salary that we were promised, and, the work, that was also different than what we were told," Adhikari said through an interpreter at a virtual news conference Thursday hosted by Equidem.

Adhikari said he received little food and did not have AC in his living quarters. He recalled working in high heat with no breaks and only hot drinking water.

Adhikari said when he raised concerns, his manager threatened to move him to a different site or send him back to Nepal. Workers at the stadium were prohibited from voicing their concerns when FIFA inspectors visited sites, Adhikari said. He said he returned home late last year.

"It was because of football and the stadium that I went to Qatar to work," he said. "Despite the pain, I will of course watch football and the World Cup."

Report calls for compensation fund, migrant workers center

Equidem is calling on Qatar to enforce international minimum standards for migrant workers in the years following the World Cup and for the establishment of a "Migrant Workers' Centre" to protect the rights of migrant workers.

"Qatar must establish an independent migrant workers' center so workers can have a safe space to express their concerns and seek help without any fear of victimization," Geoffrey Owino, a migrant worker from Kenya who spent nearly four years in Qatar, said in the virtual news conference.

Equidem and other human rights groups are also re-upping calls for the creation of a compensation fund for migrant workers and their families who have experienced "discrimination, injury, death, unfair recruitment and working practices, and abuses in the delivery of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 infrastructure."

The coalition demands FIFA set aside at least $440 million for the fund – the equivalent of prize money to be distributed at the World Cup

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A labourer uses headphones to talk on his mobile phone as the others prepare dinner at their accommodations in the old Musheireb district of Doha, Qatar, Sunday, April 28, 2019.
A labourer uses headphones to talk on his mobile phone as the others prepare dinner at their accommodations in the old Musheireb district of Doha, Qatar, Sunday, April 28, 2019.

"We estimate thousands of workers are owed remedy for illegal recruitment charges, unpaid wages, and other harms," Qadri said in the statement.

He added: "As the world’s spotlight turns towards the World Cup, this report highlights workers who refuse to stay hidden and are bravely calling for their freedoms. FIFA can no longer turn a blind eye and should set up a compensation fund immediately."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 2022 World Cup: Abuse of migrant workers in Qatar continues