What Human Rights?
The inhuman conditions in which the 2022 Qatar World Cup preps are going on shouldn’t give anyone a kick to watch the tournament
Brazi l’s poor human rights record came under the scanner before the 2014 football World Cup. The anti-terror laws that allowed the government to crush demonstrations – a nd t here were many – by force; evictions to make way for constructions; police and military takeovers of favelas. News about the violations was a steady background to the championship. The World Cup in 2018 will be held in Russia, another country with a highly dodgy human rights record. The Human Rights Watch World Repor t of 2 015 painted a distressing picture of it: “The Kremlin took another leap backward in 2014 by intensifying its crackdown on civil society, media, and the internet, as it sought to control the narrative about developments in Ukraine. Parliament adopted laws, and authorities engaged in practices, that increasingly isolated the country and inf lamed a level of anti-Western hysteria unseen since the Soviet era.”
Closer to the 2018 tournament, once the world media converges on the country and starts sending out dispatches, there will be op-eds, talking heads on television, social media debates, pressure will be on Fifa. It is about then that we will start talking seriously about 2022, and Qatar. There has been the occasional report about the situation in Qatar over the past few years. But a new Amnesty International report – released on Thursday– is damning.
“My life here is like a prison. The work is difficult; we worked for many hours in the hot sun. When I first complained about my situation, soon after arriving in Qatar, the manager said ‘if you (want to) complain you can but there will be consequences. If you want to stay in Qatar, be quiet and keep working.’ Now I am forced to stay in Qatar and continue working.”
T h a t ’ s a me t a l - worker at K h a l i f a International Stadium, the grand structure being re - built in Doha, which is what Amnesty’s study focused on.
The researchers spoke to 132 migrant construction workers and 99 others working in Aspire Zone, within which the stadium is situated. These 231 men – 90% of them are from South Asia: India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, etc – reported the following about their work conditions:
Squalid and cramped accommodation
Paying large fees ($500 to $4300) to recruiters in their home countries to get jobs in Qatar – law in Qatar prohibits charging migrant workers recruitment fees
Being deceived as to pay or type of work – all but six of were drawing salaries lower than promised when they arrived, sometimes by half
Not being paid for several months
Employers not giving or renewing residence permits, leaving them at risk of detention and deportation as ‘absconded’ workers 6 Employers confiscating workers’ passports and not issuing exit permits so they can’t leave the country
Being threatened for complaining about their conditions
The root problem is the Qatari Kafa la sponsorship system, which enables employers to exercise significant control over the lives of migrant workers. What it leads to, and Amnesty aren’t the only ones talking about this, is forced labour – practically bonded labour.
In Qatar, work on all World Cup sites is carried out under the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, and the Aspire Zone Foundation operates on behalf of it.
In 2014, the Supreme Committee established the Workers’ Welfare Standards for World Cup sites, and this is mentioned in work contracts for the sites. These standards, however, exist mainly on paper.
“All of the accommodation sites were clearly in breach of both Qatari law and the Supreme Committee’s Workers’ Welfare Standards,” says the report. “Some of the men interviewed by Amnesty International were later moved to better accommodation. Some companies subsequently returned passports to their employees; however, this appears to have only taken place after Amnesty International wrote to the companies.” The other good news is Law No. 21 of 2015 – which will replace the Kafala, and allow workers to appeal a sponsor’s refusal of exit permits – but it will come into effect only in December 2016. Now we come to Fifa. If they didn’t know, despite all reports warning them, that much of Qatar’s World Cup readiness depended on exploited migrant workers, they had huge blinkers on. More to the point, they were aware, but took hardly a step to address the issues. Remember Brazil 2014? In early 2013, Maya Kumari Sharma, the Nepal ambassador to Qatar, said the country had become an “open jail” for workers from her country. She was recalled soon after. The Indian em- bassy in Qatar has the number of deaths of Indian nationals, including migrant workers, in 2015 at over 250. It’s a country that might well have ‘bought’ the World Cup if even half the reports of corruption in Fifa are true – on the face of it, they seem to be.
Football is about people. Both Russia and Qatar have anti-homosexuality laws. Sepp Blatter’s quip – for which he later apologised – that gay fans “should refrain from sexual activity” in Qatar hardly spoke well of Fifa’s commitment to LGBT rights. Fifa pay lip service to various issues, but Brazil 2014, Russia 2018 and, especially, Qatar 2022 paint a pretty grim picture of its human rights record.
It might not be too late to reopen the bidding for 2022. At any rate, there is time yet for Fifa to take the long-pending steps necessary to ensure that the tournament they own is no longer stained with the blood of exploited migrant workers.
Shamya Dasgupta is Senior
Editor, Wisden India