The International Trade Union Confederation says that if conditions don’t improve, at least 4,000 migrants will die before kick-off
Since 2012 – when Qatar was chosen to host the 2022 World Cup – an estimated 900 Indian and Nepalese workers have died in the building of stadiums, an airport, a subway system and a port.
However, these statistics likely understate the true number of fatalities in Qatar due to a lack of means for tracking Sri Lankan and Pakistani workers also involved in the country’s infrastructure development.
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Reports from The Guardian’s investigation into Qatar’s labor practices are especially troubling when compared to the mortality rates during preparation for similar events across the world. There were 25 casualties associated with the construction for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. This summer’s World Cup in Brazil has caused just six deaths during its 11 years of preparation.
The high number of deaths among Qatar’s migrant workers indicate that the country must urgently adhere to human rights and labor policies.
Dangerous working conditions
Allegations of inhumane working conditions offer some explanation for the mortality rates amongst migrant workers in Qatar. Investigators from The Guardian found that workers were forced to work in 122 degree Fahrenheit heat, denied drinking water, and left to sleep in makeshift housing in unfinished stadiums, sometimes with as many as 12 men to a room.
Workers from Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and other relatively poor countries often arrive with debts to their recruiters or through employer sponsorships, meaning they cannot simply stop working, or seek better employment. Alleged wage retention and confiscation of passports also explain why these migrant workers are effectively trapped in Qatar with few options but to either flee the country or endure dangerous working conditions.
The working conditions and unfair labor practices will likely worsen as the World Cup looms closer. In 2013 alone Qatar experienced a 10 percent population increase, much of which can be attributed to mass immigration of migrant workers. An estimated 1 million migrant workers will join the 1.2 million workers already in Qatar preparing for the World Cup, only fueling the existing violations of labor rights.
The International Trade Union Confederation, a group dedicated to protecting labor and human rights across the world, released a report claiming that under current conditions, 4,000 migrant workers will die in the production of the 2022 World Cup.
International reaction, or lack thereof
Despite the numerous deaths and unacceptable working conditions, the Federation International de Football Association, or FIFA as it is commonly called, has remained relatively silent about its decision to hold the World Cup in Qatar.
Even before construction began, the decision to award Qatar the honor of hosting the World Cup was hotly debated. High temperatures during Qatari summers, the relative lack of existing infrastructure, and the country’s hostility towards gay rights all caused controversy following FIFA’s announcement of future host nations. The delays, overspending and deaths that followed have only intensified complaints about Qatar’s selection as host nation for the World Cup.
Recently, international attention to labor practices in Qatar has been mounting. Last month, British Labour Party politician Jim Murphy brought the issue to light in European Parliament saying FIFA “cannot pretend that the only things that matter are the pitches and the stands,” inviting FIFA officials to accompany him on an exploratory mission to Qatar in March.
Plans to solicit a report from Qatari officials addressing and accounting for the high number of workers’ deaths are also in process. Additionally, British officials have called for the strengthening and expansion of the Work in Freedom Programme that currently only fights forced labor of girls and women in Southeast Asia as a means of enacting important changes in the construction and preparation for the World Cup.
As the richest country per capita in the world with an unprecedented 220 billion dollar budget for the World Cup, there is no reason why Qatar cannot allocate adequate funds to fair labor practices. The intensity of international attention, demands for change, and accountability will determine whether unacceptable labor conditions persist during preparation for the 2022 World Cup.
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