A comprehensive report released earlier this week by the International Trade Union Confederation estimated that 4,000 immigrant workers could die before the 2022 Qatar World Cup – a result of living in squalor, drinking salty water, working excessive hours in extreme heat and living in cramped conditions.
The report begins “Qatar is a country without a conscience” and only gets more damning from there.
“Fundamental rights and freedoms do not exist for workers in Qatar whether for poor migrant workers or highly paid professional expatriates. Foreign workers are enslaved – owned by employers who own the power of recruitment, total control over wages and conditions of employment, the authority to issue ID cards (not having an ID card can lead to prison) and the ability to refuse a change of employment or an exit visa to leave the country. This is known as the Kafala system.”
The reality is that the stadiums for the 2022 World Cup are being built on the backs of the 1.4 million immigrant workers living and working in Qatar but are being under-compensated and subjected to unfair labor practices. Many of these workers are Nepalese and Indian.
The report goes into specific details about the conditions, allowing workers a first-person account of the situation.
One 26-year-old worker from the Philippines wrote: “After being in Qatar for five years, I would like to take my annual leave and go back home for a short visit. The company practice is that the manager demands a deposit payment of $275 -- an amount which I cannot afford in addition to the price of the ticket.” The worker also notes his living conditions, which include “eight people to one bedroom, sixteen people share a bathroom and thirty five people share a kitchen.”
The statistics cited say that 191 Nepalese workers and 218 Indian nationals died in 2013 alone, and the potential for 4,000 pre-World Cup deaths is based on mortality trend data from the Nepal and Indian embassies.
In response, Qatar has created two separate charters – the Qatar Foundation Mandatory Standards and the Committee Workers' Welfare Standards – but both appear to be ineffective. First of all, the QF appears to allow workers to merely raise objections to conditions as opposed to enact substantial changes, but more importantly, it's self-policed by the contractors themselves. The report notes it periodically conducts self-audits, which consistently fail to yield anything of merit.
The second charter is even more of a joke. Workers meet with management once a month (at an accommodation site, not the actual work site) and are barred from raising topics such as wages, hours of work or potential to switch companies.
FIFA is aware of the issues and has called on Qatar to amend its practices, but it seems that there's little fear of re-locating the World Cup (despite the very bright idea to host a World Cup in Qatar's searing climate). What's more, FIFA is currently under federal investigation because its former VP allegedly accepted bribe money from a firm linked to Qatar's bid.
If that's still not enough to make one question the entire bureaucratic process for soccer's governing body, a Reuters report on Tuesday said that FIFA considered halting an investigation being conducted by an independent ethics committee into the alleged bribes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Thankfully, they thought better of intervening and the investigation is still on-going.
Given all the recent revelations, it's no wonder MLS commissioner Don Garber recently quipped that the Qatar World Cup could become a "monumental disaster." At this point, that seems all too likely.