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At least 93 cases of migrant worker abuse found in Qatar in year before World Cup

Fifa has been warned that the window of opportunity to push for lasting change in a region is quickly closing following findings from the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Monday 17 October 2022 18:35 BST
Over 300 cases of migrant worker abuse were found in Qatar over a six-year period, but the actual figure may be higher
Over 300 cases of migrant worker abuse were found in Qatar over a six-year period, but the actual figure may be higher (Getty Images)

At least 93 cases of migrant worker abuse have been recorded in Qatar in the year before the World Cup, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre [BHRRC] has found, with the body stating that number is “very likely to be an undercount” due to restrictions on reporting and threats of reprisal or deportation.

The BHRRC added that illustrates how the implementation of labour reforms has been lacking, despite Fifa and the Qatar government pushing the narrative that they were the end goal.

The body, an international NGO that tracks the human rights impact of more than 10,000 companies across nearly 200 countries, recorded 709 cases of alleged abuse across the Gulf between January 2016 and 13 October 2022. Of those, 305 (43 per cent) occurred in Qatar, with 93 in the final year leading up to the World Cup.

The United Arab Emirates, where Abu Dhabi use Manchester City as a “sportswashing” project, were next highest on the list with 214 over that same six-year period.

The abuses in Qatar over the last year include 71 cases where workers’ conditions of employment were violated; 25 where workers reported restrictions on fundamental freedoms - including expression, movement and association - 23 where workers cited inhumane or precarious living conditions, and 23 where workers repeatedly experienced verbal or physical abuse. Workers reported wage theft in 49 cases and paying recruitment fees in 34 cases.

“Fifa and the Qatar Government have repeatedly pushed the narrative that the new labour reforms were the end goal, but implementation is still severely lacking,” said Isobel Archer, Gulf Programme Manager, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.

“Our most recent figures paint a different picture. During the final year countdown to the World Cup, we recorded 93 public cases of alleged abuse of migrant workers in Qatar. This number is very likely to be an undercount due to restrictions on reporting and the very real threats of retaliation, reprisal and, at worst, deportation workers face if they dare to speak up about labour violations.

“Violations of workers’ employment conditions were cited in 76 per cent of abuse cases, severely undermining the work done on labour reform in the country. That 37 per cent of cases detailed workers paid recruitment fees, and in many instances were burdened with debt to pay them, is particularly concerning given the short-term contracts workers are likely to be on during the tournament.

“Qatar’s introduction of labour reforms without meaningful and systematic implementation is simply not enough and cannot be used as an excuse for no further action. The Supreme Committee, Fifa and other stakeholders, including sponsors and football associations, must strive for a rights-respecting legacy for this World Cup.

“When Qatar won its bid for the World Cup, the international community was presented with a rare opportunity to push for lasting change in a region where it is desperately needed – but this window of opportunity is quickly closing.

Stakeholders must use their leverage to ensure the tournament leaves a positive legacy for workers’ rights in the country through full and effective implementation of the labour reforms and access to remedy for workers who have suffered abuses.”

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