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Labour exploitation of migrant workers rampant during Qatar World Cup – New testimonies reveal

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Archival photo of migrant workers in Colombia. Photo: IOM/Rocío Sanz
Archival photo of migrant workers in Colombia. Photo: IOM/Rocío Sanz

“We were given cards from FIFA that had numbers on it we could call. However, as soon as the FIFA World Cup ended, all those numbers went nowhere, and it seems that FIFA packed up shop as soon as the World Cup ended and didn’t care about those who were left behind.” – Pakistani security guard.

“[When I] registered the complaints at the labour court asking to change employer – nothing happened. The manager said that the labour court officer is his friend.” – Nepali cook.

FIFA has serious questions to answer as migrant workers paint an alarming picture of the labour rights abuse that took place during the Qatar World Cup in November and December 2022. In a report published today by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, workers speak out on exploitative recruitment practices, and their deplorable living and working conditions while in Qatar. These testimonies, published six months after a tournament that yielded a record-breaking USD7.5 billion in profits for FIFA, bring into stark relief the human rights failures of the organisers, sponsors and football teams, despite pre-tournament pledges.

All 78 workers interviewed experienced labour exploitation during the World Cup, including 20 employed by official Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup contractors and 17 who worked at World Cup stadiums and other official FIFA venues during the tournament. Charging of recruitment fees was rife: 93% paid illegal or extortionate amounts to obtain work and two-thirds were indebted to banks, family and friends to cover the cost. Migrant workers were also forced to contend with appalling working conditions, reporting wage theft (58), inability to obtain overtime pay (36 out of 69 who worked overtime), different contracts than originally promised (45) and being paid lower-than-agreed wages (27) – particularly egregious given the significant debt that many incurred to obtain employment.

Despite key labour law reforms in Qatar ahead of the World Cup, including the abolition of the exploitative Kafala system, implementation has been inconsistent and promised improvements for migrant workers have remained minimal. The interviewed workers said they were not able to change jobs freely. Many reported they could not raise grievances for fear of reprisals from their employers; 43% of those who did raise grievances experienced retaliation, which included terminations, detentions and deportations. Only 11 workers were aware of FIFA’s Human Rights Grievance Mechanism, and none reported knowing anyone who had used it.

The testimonies published in the report make it evident that companies systematically failed to engage directly with workers to understand and mitigate the risks they were facing. Larger companies, including multinational brands and even those partially or wholly government owned, failed to conduct rigorous checks to stamp out labour rights abuse from their supply chains, with less than 20% of workers interviewed asked about working conditions during such assessments.

Isobel Archer, Senior Researcher, Labour & Migrant Worker Rights, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, said: “FIFA claimed the Qatar World Cup 2022 would drive improvements for migrant workers’ rights in the country – but workers have detailed their daily experiences in Doha during the tournament and they are deeply concerning. While FIFA earned a record-breaking USD7.5 billion from the World Cup, many migrant workers – who toiled to make the tournament a success – were unable to earn enough money to even pay off the debts they incurred to get their jobs.

“We’ve heard from workers who welcomed fans, cleaned teams’ hotels and kept visitors safe at World Cup sites. Across the board, their reality was one of long hours, burdened with debt taken out to pay for jobs that failed to pay them what was promised – far from the glitz and glamour of the red carpet rolled out by the Qatari Government and FIFA for sponsors and football stars.

“There can be no excuse for the companies which profited from migrant labour exploitation not to learn from what happened in Qatar. Despite promised reforms, companies – multinational and local alike – continue to fail the migrant workforce they depend on. They must implement meaningful, worker-centric due diligence to find out how employees in their workplaces and supply chains are being treated. At the very least, as they look to the next men’s World Cup in 2026, FIFA, football associations, multinationals and local contractors must right the wrongs of 2022 and commit to funding remedy for abuse that took place on their watch and during their tournament.”

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