Nearly four years after the first reports emerged about Qatar abusing its foreign labor force to build soccer stadiums for the extravagant FIFA World Cup 2022, the United Nations has finally issued a serious warning.
As of this month, the Gulf country has 12 months to put an end to the ill-treatment (read: forces modern-day slavery) of expatriate workers or face a possible investigation, which could lead to international sanctions if the practice continues.
If history’s any indication, Qatar will most likely refute the allegations — yet again — and ensure the U.N., critics, sponsors and prospective World Cup tourists that all laborers involved in building infrastructure for the soccer tournament are being paid and treated well.
The main concern here, therefore, is FIFA’s reaction to the U.N. warning. Will the international governing body for soccer still stand by idly or, for a change, will it take Qatari authorities to task?
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Human Rights Watch claimed in 2012 the abuse began the same year Russia and Qatar won 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup bids, respectively.
“The Nepali embassy reported 191 Nepali worker deaths in 2010,” the organization stated in its report. A more damning analysis came in 2014 when the International Trade Union Confederation estimated nearly 4,000 laborers could be dead by 2022.
In addition, it was reported Qatari authorities were keeping laborers as virtual prisoners in squalid, makeshift camps. Many of them had their passports confiscated upon arrival by their bosses.
Meanwhile, the U.N. only “urged” to reform labor practices while FIFA showed little to no interest in the matter and FIFA, despite international criticism and calls from fans and human rights organizations to relocate the event from Qatar, remained criminally silent.
“FIFA has played its part in this sorry performance,” Mustafa Qadri, Amnesty International’s Gulf migrant rights researcher, stated in December. “It knew there were labor rights issues in Qatar. It must work closely with the Qatari authorities and business partners to ensure the World Cup is not built on exploitation.”
It was only after an International Labor Organization delegation visited the Gulf State earlier this month and witnessed the mistreatment of workers first-hand that the U.N. finally said something substantial in terms of dealing with the issue.
But only after FIFA faced with a separate scandal involving corruption by its top-notch executives did it hastily appointed John Ruggie, a Harvard professor, last December to review human rights policies. Ruggie wrote a framework for human rights and business for the U.N. Human Rights Council while serving as special representative of the U.N. secretary general for business and human rights from 2006-11.
But a policy maker won’t be able to come up with a viable strategy to deal with the issue until the soccer body confronts Qatar head-on over the allegations.
Will FIFA do it though? Especially at a time when it’s embroiled in a crisis of its own?
That’s something only time will tell.