(Beirut) – The 2022 World Cup is ending with no commitment from FIFA or Qatari authorities to remedy abuses, including unexplained deaths, that migrant workers suffered to make the tournament possible over the past 12 years, Human Rights Watch said today. The tournament’s final match will be held in the glittering Lusail stadium on December 18, 2022, which is Qatar’s National Day, and also International Migrants Day.
“The final game of this World Cup tournament coincides with International Migrants Day and Qatar’s National Day, a fitting coincidence given migrant workers’ indispensable role in making the tournament and the development of Qatar possible,” said Rothna Begum, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But unless FIFA and Qatar provide a remedy for the widescale unaddressed abuses suffered by migrants who prepared and delivered the tournament, they will have chosen to leave behind a legacy of exploitation and shame.”
On May 19, 2022, Human Rights Watch, along with a global coalition of human rights organizations, migrant rights groups, labor unions, and fan groups, called on FIFA and Qatari authorities to provide a remedy for serious abuses that migrant workers have suffered since the 2022 World Cup was awarded to Qatar in 2010. Since then, many global entities and actors have expressed support for the campaign, including the global public, football associations, sponsors, political leaders, and athletes.
In the last few years, Qatari authorities made notable reforms to advance worker protections, including to the kafala (sponsorship) system, a largely British colonial-era creation established before Qatar’s independence in 1971, which now allows workers to change jobs and leave the country without their employers’ permission. Important initiatives by the Supreme Committee, the body responsible for planning and delivering World Cup infrastructure, included the Universal Reimbursement Scheme to reimburse workers who pay illegal recruitment fees. But Human Rights Watch has also found that these reforms either came too late, were too narrow in scope, or were weakly enforced, which meant many workers who helped build the World Cup infrastructure fell through the cracks.
Since June, FIFA had indicated in a series of communications, including briefings to multiple groups, that they planned to compensate workers and support an independent migrant workers’ center. However, on the eve of the tournament, they failed to commit to providing a remedy.
Instead, Qatari authorities and FIFA have made grossly inaccurate and misleading claims that Qatar’s current systems are adequate to address widespread current and historic abuses faced by workers.
Both Qatar’s Labor Minister at a November 14 European Parliament hearing, and FIFA President Gianni Infantino, on the eve of the tournament, on November 19, responded by contending that the Qatar Labor Ministry’s Workers’ Support and Insurance Fund would take care of compensation. The fund became operational only in 2020 to reimburse workers if their employers failed to pay them their owed wages after they obtained labor court rulings in their favor.
However, the fund is limited to wage theft, access to it is rife with obstacles including taking years to obtain labor court rulings before workers can apply to the fund, the payments are capped, and it is nearly impossible for workers to apply after they return to their home countries. It also does not address injuries or deaths on the job or even wage theft in the decade before it was established.
A remedy fund could be built using the existing compensation schemes to reach more workers, including those still seeking to recover stolen wages. It would also need to reach the families of workers who died in circumstances Qatari authorities never investigated, allowing families who lost a provider to receive compensation they need to feed themselves and send their children to school.
“FIFA brags that this is the most successful World Cup ever, but there is no successful tournament when so many migrant workers have died utterly preventable deaths – including two workers who died during the World Cup itself,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch. “The only way to ensure a better legacy would be to finally come through with a genuine remedy for the abuses the migrant workers who built and delivered this World Cup have suffered.”
The month-long tournament has had unprecedented global coverage of migrant rights issues. Migrant workers and families of deceased workers bravely shared their stories and accounts about wide-ranging abuses from stolen wages, the struggles to repay loans for illegal recruitment fees to work in Qatar, the struggles of losing loved ones without an explanation of their deaths in Qatar, and the apathy they faced when trying to report abuses or claim a remedy.
Despite FIFA’s best efforts to keep the focus only on football, many football insiders and stakeholders knew better and put as much emphasis on football’s forgotten team, the migrant workers, as they did on teams on the pitch. Current and former football players declared their support, on and off the pitch. Journalists conducted in-depth reporting of migrant workers’ lives and realities, both in Qatar and among those who returned to their own countries.
While FIFA and Qatari authorities attempt to deflect global scrutiny of their human rights record, this World Cup has itself been built on injustice – delivered at the cost of abuse and exploitation of low-paid migrant workers primarily from South Asia and Africa, Human Rights Watch said.
As the tournament draws to a close, the world is watching, and the discontent will continue over the abuses that have tarnished this beautiful game. Even now, FIFA has an opportunity to avoid a reputational disaster for failing to live up to its own statutes and responsibilities under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The football governing body is set to announce a FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Legacy Fund, as with previous tournaments, which is expected to be a fraction of their expected US$7.5 billion revenue from this tournament, but it plans to use it on education projects and to establish a global Labour Excellence Center. There is still time to direct the fund to remedy the abuses faced by migrant workers who made the 2022 World Cup possible.
“FIFA had no regard for the welfare of migrant workers when they awarded Qatar hosting rights and are set to make billions from the tough labor of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from South Asia and Africa who toiled in the extreme heat to make the tournament possible,” Begum said. “The least FIFA and Qatari authorities can do now is mark International Migrants Day by acknowledging the contributions of migrant workers and committing to provide a remedy for all those who faced abuses and fell through the cracks.”