The Qatar World Cup and the Abused Migrant Workers

By Ricardo Arana

The entire world eagerly awaits every four years. Teams train harder and harder just to make an appearance. People around the world rally behind their country, cheer for their national pride, and anxiously wait for the new champion. This is the World Cup, the most watched and followed sporting event in the entire world.

During the four-year wait, the next host is preparing to be the eyes of the world. In 2022, the host is going to be Qatar. The stadiums that fans, teams, and leaders will join in will have been built on the abuse, tears, and blood that migrant workers have had to endure just to get a paycheck. Qatar has slave-like working conditions, which has caused the death and abuse of thousands of workers. These human and workers’ rights abuses are a crucial social issue that must not be swept under the rug, and FIFA and Qatar have to be held accountable for the slavery that they have allowed to exist.

To begin with, one must realize that Qatar is in the Arabian Peninsula, where temperatures in the summer hover around 115 degree Fahrenheit. This harsh heat puts great strain on the workers’ bodies. However, it is not just the fact that the heat is unbearable, but also the fact that employers don’t do much to create good working conditions. This comes from a complete lack of care about a worker’s health, emotions, or rights.

According to Mark Hanrahan, “Foreign workers in the country are subject to a system of labor rules known as kafala.” Under the Kafala system, workers are under direct supervision of their employer, their movements are heavily restricted, and the employer has every right to confiscate the worker’s passport. When workers are caught outside of the working area without their passport, they are arrested. Amnesty International has interviewed construction workers in an effort to expose working conditions. One of the construction workers said, “My company has never given me my ID so at any time the police can arrest me and I will be stuck in jail…I rarely leave my camp. My life is just the construction site and this dirty room.”

Furthermore, Amnesty International has also accused Qatar of breaking their promises of reform. They state that it was a “PR stunt” and that no meaningful reform has come to fruition. One of the most frustrating things is that many times workers are paid really late or not at all. Due to the restrictions put forth by the Kafala system, there is little workers can do to actually get their pay in time. This is literally slave work for many workers.

To continue, thousands of the migrant workers are from Nepal (an estimated 400,000 Nepalese workers). In April 25, 2015, there was a devastating earthquake in Nepal that caused thousands of deaths. Several of the workers had family members who died.

According to Manrahan, no construction worker who was involved in projects with the World Cup was allowed to attend the funeral of their family members. The employers barred them from leaving, primarily due to the fact that they want to adhere to their already set timetable.

On top of the lack of humanity exhibited by the employers, there are also reports that showed that “Nepali workers died at the rate of one every two days.” All of this caused the Nepalese labor minister, Tek Gurung, to criticize FIFA and Qatar for taking advantage of poor workers and not doing anything to improve workers’ conditions.

According to Wesley Stephenson, BBC has also sent teams to dig deeper into this issue. They tried seeing how workers’ conditions were, primarily by observing the housing conditions for the workers. Qatar showed how sensitive it are to this information making it to the mainstream media through arresting the entire BBC team and taking away their equipment.

BBC and Stephenson also report an alarming figure, and that is that by the beginning of 2015, 1,200 workers had already died. As if that figure weren’t bad enough, Robert Silverman states, “at least 4,000 people in total will die before the start of the World Cup…” The International Trade Union Confederation, however, says that that number is potentially a huge underestimation, “given that it was derived from statistics collected by two embassies only—Nepal and India—which account for around 5% of the total migrant workforce.” Amnesty International, along with other human rights groups and government officials, have called for FIFA and sponsors to pressure Qatar into changing these conditions that have resulted in such large casualties.

Silverman also reports two separate disturbing events. The first one was about a construction manager who was interviewed. He said that there was “…blood everywhere…it was covered up with no report…I was told that if I didn’t stop complaining, I would be dismissed.” This is a clear example of how the employers don’t report the daily accidents that endanger workers, and how workers are intimidated into not speaking out. The second event was by FIFA’s Secretary General, Jérôme Valcke. He said, “…less democracy is sometimes better for organizing a World Cup…When you have a very strong head of state who can decide, as maybe Putin can do in 2018…that is easier for us organizers than a country such as Germany… where you have to negotiate at different levels.” This shows blatant disregard for the will of the people and the safety of workers by one of FIFA’s top ranking members.

There is a clear and present danger here. FIFA and Qatar are both violating human rights by making migrant workers work in such horrible conditions. They take away their voices, disregard their physical and mental health, intimidate, and violate their most basic human rights. FIFA, along with its sponsors, must pressure Qatar into creating a better environment that protects the rights of these workers as human beings. If this is not done, it allows for this kind of injustice to keep taking place and for workers to be abused.

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