Human rights organisations say Fifa complicit in ‘serious abuses’ over unpaid workers in Qatar

Amnesty International and other bodies have called on football’s governing organisation to rectify the issue and set up a fund for labourers to access ‘the compensation they deserve’ from Qatar

Miguel Delaney
In Doha
Monday 12 December 2022 17:00 GMT
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Fifa have been described as a “global embarrassment” who have benefited from and been complicit in the “exploitation” of migrant workers in Qatar, by a coalition of human rights bodies.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, FairSquare and Equidem released a joint statement saying the governing body has “failed to fulfil its human rights responsibilities” by refusing to commit to a compensation fund for labourers and their families.

The group did nevertheless say that Fifa could “still do the right thing” by channelling the Legacy Fund towards workers. President Gianni Infantino has also been accused of “misleading comments” that workers can access compensation through an existing mechanism in Qatar, when it is not actually set up to provide compensation on any meaningful scale.

They say Fifa “owes a public explanation over why it has switched from ‘considering’ the proposal for remedy to dismissing it completely”.

This all comes as Equidem reveal that workers and their families are contacting the body demanding compensation for unpaid wages, recruitment charges and other harms including deaths, and the World Cup 2022 enters its final week with Fifa set to make $7.5bn. The group have again called on Fifa to use even a portion of that for a compensation fund.

The governing body had previously indicated it was committed to identifying ways to compensate migrant workers, only to instead announce a “Legacy Fund” on the eve of the World Cup that doesn’t include provision for worker damages.

FairSquare has specifically said Fifa have “parroted Qatari authorities’ talking points” by way of deflection.

The coalition argues that a compensation fund would merely be fulfilling Fifa’s own human rights responsibilities under the UN Guiding Principles, which make clear that a business enterprise’s responsibility to respect human rights “exist independently of states’ abilities and/or willingness to fulfil their own human rights obligations and does not diminish those obligations”.

A remedy fund and an independent migrant workers’ centre are widely supported by the global public, football associations, sponsors, political leaders and athletes.

Key figures in all of the main human rights bodies issued statements castigating Fifa but similarly calling for them to rectify the situation.

“Instead of ensuring protection of migrant workers who built and delivered the World Cup infrastructure in Qatar, Fifa has benefited from their exploitation and parroted Qatari authorities’ talking points, showing their complicity to all the misleading claims and deflections on abuses of migrant workers,” Nick McGeehan, founding director of FairSquare, said. “Fifa has tuned out genuine demands for remedy for migrant workers including from the football industry and ignored evidence of widespread uncompensated abuses and the inadequacies of the current compensation systems in Qatar.”

Tirana Hassan, Human Rights Watch’s acting executive director, added: “Fifa’s egregious whitewashing of serious abuses against migrant workers in Qatar is both a global embarrassment and a sinister tactic to escape its human rights responsibility to compensate thousands of workers who faced abuse and the families of those who died to make this World Cup possible.

“Fifa continues to cash in on billions of dollars in revenue but refuses to offer a single cent for the families of migrant workers who died or those workers who were cheated out of their wages.”

Construction workers at Qatar’s Lusail Stadium in 2019

Mustafa Qadri, Equidem’s chief executive officer, said: “World Cup workers and their relatives are contacting us demanding compensation for unpaid wages, recruitment charges and other harms including deaths. Rather than shifting the goalposts, Fifa and Qatar should heed these calls. The tournament has been mired by worker deaths and exploitation, and significant restrictions on freedom of expression and solidarity with the LGBTI+ community. This is an opportunity for Fifa and Qatar to end the tournament with a positive legacy for the women and men who have made it possible.”

Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s head of economic and social justice, stated; “Fifa can still do the right thing by channelling the Legacy Fund towards workers and their families, supporting a genuinely independent workers’ centre and working with Qatar to ensure that every worker can access the compensation that they deserve.

“By changing course, Fifa could make a lasting difference to the lives of the true heroes behind this World Cup. Refusing to do so would be a terrible indictment on its commitment to workers’ rights.”

The Independent has contacted Fifa for comment.

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