Qatar migrant worker population could swell to 2.4 to build the world cup infrastructure Photo: Omar Chatriwala License - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/
Pressure growing on FIFA and Qatar as world cries out against Cup conditions.
Qatar faces the prospect of losing its right to host the 2022 World Cup as unions, human rights organisations, and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) continue to draw attention to the terrible working conditions facing the tiny country’s huge migrant labour force.
Following criticisms from the ILO’s Deputy Director-General in February, where he warned Qatar against “pick and choose” reforms, an ILO tripartite committee has delivered a scathing report questioning almost all of the Qatar government’s PR-friendly excuses and demanded to see evidence that any of the laws and regulations they have brought in has made the slightest difference. The committee was formed following complaints from the ITUC and the international construction union federation BWI, and Qatar has until November to prove they have made genuine reforms.
Meanwhile two separate UK visits – one by construction union UCATT and the other by Labour Shadow International Development Secretary Jim Murphy –sparked fresh press coverage with their findings and video footage of shocking living conditions for workers. UCATT pulled a blinder and took along The Mirror’s Kevin Maguire, who compiled this particularly damning article and film, while Murphy had the Daily Record in tow, the Scottish paper’s equally condemnatory coverage helping prove that criticism of Qatar is not limited to English ‘sour grapes’, as FIFA implied last week. Coverage from Canada, the USA, Australia and other Gulf states has also quoted the ITUC’s warnings about the fate of construction workers building the infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup.
And a spokesman for the German government, a powerful footballing nation not given to shedding tears over the disappointments of English sports fans, has also weighed in against Qatar’s “slave labour”.
Rather than going away, international pressure on Qatar is growing, and with it pressure on FIFA to consider an alternative venue.
The ITUC, whose report with The Guardian back in September sparked the current wave of international outrage with their estimate that 4,000 workers were likely to die if conditions did not improve, has been campaigning for FIFA to “Rerun the Vote” for the Cup’s 2022 host nation. Now a former member of FIFA’s Independent Governance Committee (IGC), has called for a rerun because of “the human rights issues raised by the selection of Qatar” and the lingering allegations of corruption surrounding the World Cup selection process, and the IGC’s chair Mark Peith has publicly discussed the crippling effect of compensation in the event of the Qatar event becoming untenable.
None of this necessarily makes a rerun likely – but until last month talk of a new host nation was generally dead-batted (to mix my sports). FIFA’s Theo Zanwiger, who has been a fierce critic of the Qatar Cup and is now in charge of all talks with Qatar on labour rights, insists that persuading Qatar to clean up their act is a better tactic than threatening to take the games off them (forgetting that the two are not mutually exclusive), but with every fresh criticism, FIFA are led to make more and more promises that they are taking the issue seriously (though Zanwiger’s “The minimum requirement is that conditions be improved” is not quite the battle cry many of us would like to see).
The ILO intervention is timely. The November deadline for Qatar to prove that it is tackling the worst excesses of its ‘kafala’ system of sponsorship for migrant workers, which has led to workers being beaten, abused, starved and put in highly dangerous working conditions, all the while held prisoner in the country by exit visa requirements and often the confiscation of their passports, will keep the issue in the public eye just as time runs out for FIFA to change its mind.
In short, union pressure is beginning to cause real problems for Qatar, rather ironically for a country that refuses to allow its migrant workers to join one, and the more we push the more the cracks will widen. The TUC and our affiliates will be doing everything we can over the coming months to keep the spotlight on Qatar’s appalling treatment of its guest workers.
One way you can help in the short run is by contacting your MP and asking them to sign this Early Day Motion put forward by Chris Williamson and Stephen Hepburn, who accompanied UCATT on their recent visit to Qatar. It has cross party support, and the more signatures it receives the more it can be used to keep the pressure on FIFA and its 2022 hosts.