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Qatar: FIFA must act on labour abuses as World Cup qualifiers kick off 

Ahead of qualification matches for the 2022 Qatar World Cup, Amnesty International is calling on FIFA to use its leverage with the Qatari authorities to help end the abuse of migrant workers. In a letter to FIFA President Gianni Infantino, Amnesty called on FIFA to live up to its responsibilities to prevent, mitigate and remedy human rights risks connected to the tournament, and to “use the full extent of its influence” to urge Qatar to fulfil its programme of labour reforms before the World Cup kicks off. 

Qatar has made a number of positive reforms in recent years, partly in response to increased scrutiny after the World Cup contract was awarded, but too often these are not properly implemented and thousands of migrant workers continue to be exploited and abused. Recently Qatar’s Shura Council, an advisory body, put forward a set of recommendations which, if accepted by the government, would undo much of the progress brought about by reforms, including by re-imposing restrictions on the rights of workers to change jobs and leave the country.   

“This World Cup simply would not be possible without migrant workers, who comprise 95 per cent of Qatar’s workforce. From stadiums and roads to hospitality and security, the tournament depends on the hard work of men and women who have travelled thousands of miles to provide for their families. But too often, these workers still find that their time in Qatar is defined by abuse and exploitation,” said Steve Cockburn, Head of Economic and Social Justice at Amnesty International. 

“As the World Cup organizing body, FIFA has a responsibility under international standards to mitigate human rights risks arising from the tournament. This includes risks to workers in industries like hospitality and transport, which have expanded massively to facilitate the delivery of the games. This week’s qualifiers are a reminder that the window for FIFA to influence Qatar is closing – it must act now to ensure that the 2022 World Cup is a tournament to be proud of, and not one tainted by labour abuses.” 

FIFA must act now to ensure that the 2022 World Cup is a tournament to be proud of, and not one tainted by labour abuses

Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty International

Workers suffering to make World Cup possible 

When FIFA decided to hold the World Cup in Qatar, it knew – or should have known – that there were inherent human rights risks, due to the country’s heavy reliance on migrant workers and its exploitative labour system. Consequently, FIFA knew, or ought to have known, that migrants working in all sectors related to the delivery of the World Cup, whether directly linked to official sites or not, would suffer to make it possible. 

On 15 March, Amnesty wrote to FIFA and called on it to live up to its international human rights responsibilities. Under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, FIFA must ensure human rights are respected in the organization and delivery of the World Cup, including by carrying out its own independent and regular monitoring of World Cup projects and venues, and conducting due diligence to identify and prevent any human rights abuses associated with the tournament. Crucially, FIFA also has a responsibility to ensure that all harms suffered by workers on World Cup-related projects to date are properly remedied, in cooperation with the Qatari authorities and other relevant stakeholders.  

“FIFA must use its voice to urge Qatar to urgently implement and enforce existing reforms, and to reject proposals to strip workers of their newly gained rights,” said Steve Cockburn.

Call for football fans to add their voices

Amnesty acknowledges the steps FIFA has taken in recent years to live up to its responsibilities, including by establishing its 2017 Human Rights Policy and a joint FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Sustainability Strategy in October 2019. FIFA has pledged to leave “a legacy of world class standards and practices for workers in Qatar and internationally”, but the continued prevalence of serious labour abuses shows there is much to be done.  

For example, in 2020 FIFA told Amnesty International that the “day-to-day due diligence” of construction workers’ rights is carried out by the Supreme Committee, the government body overseeing the Qatar World Cup. 

This hands-off approach was shown to be deeply insufficient when Amnesty found that construction workers on the €770m Al Bayt Stadium had worked for up to seven months without pay. The Supreme Committee had known about this for nearly a year, but FIFA admitted that it was unaware, demonstrating why FIFA needs to be far more diligent in independently monitoring World Cup sites. 

Several Amnesty International offices around the world are now calling on football supporters to sign a petition, urging FIFA to do more to help transform conditions for the workers making the tournament possible. Amnesty International offices in 27 countries also wrote to their national football associations in November 2020, urging them to play an active role in ensuring the rights of migrant workers. 

Meanwhile concerns over ongoing human rights issues in Qatar have been growing among football supporter groups in a number of countries, with some calling for a boycott. 

“FIFA must take the concerns of the footballing community seriously and take concrete action. FIFA  has an opportunity to help leave Qatar a better place for migrant workers, but the clock is ticking,” said Steve Cockburn. 

“FIFA and Qatar must put in place a robust plan of action to ensure the migrant workers across all sectors associated with the World Cup have been paid properly, treated fairly, and are free from the control of exploitative employers.”