The Controversial 2022 Qatar World Cup of Human Rights Abuses
Featured Human Rights International Law Middle East Migrant Workers Rights World

The 2022 Qatar World Cup of Human Rights Abuses

2022 Qatar World Cup

As football fans prepare to watch the 2022 Qatar World Cup from November 20th to December 18th, there has been much contention regarding the nation’s corruption allegations, climate policy concerns, and human rights abuses. Migrant workers in Qatar have faced many horrific abuses, including thousands of unexplainable deaths, forced labour, injuries, and wage theft.

In its efforts to build eight state-of-the-art football stadiums, a cruel and chilling reality is revealed behind the most popular sporting event worldwide.

With 31 countries qualifying for the tournament, this may be one of the most controversial World Cup’s in history. Additionally, this will be the first time the tournament will take place on Middle Eastern soil.

Ironically, there were fears that the unprecedented heat in Qatar this summer would be dangerous for football fans travelling between stadiums, public transport and hotels. Consequently, FIFA delayed the World Cup by five months. However, this date change signals the severe and looming problem of climate change.

Background to Qatar Human Rights Abuses

This is not the first time a country has extravagantly indulged in a significant sporting event to boost its reputation at the cost of underlying human rights abuses. In 2010 FIFA awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. The country commenced an enormous construction project to build stadiums to host the football tournament costing at least $220 billion.

Read more – Saudi Arabia Ignites Golf War Showcasing Who Prefers Money Over Human Rights.

There are 1.7 million migrant workers in Qatar, comprising over 95% of the workforce in a population of 2.9 million people. Migrant workers enter Qatar under a sponsorship system allowing employers to significantly control their personal lives. Thus, if a sponsor decides to terminate the sponsorship, migrant workers are subject to deportation without any possibility of challenging the decision. The majority of migrant workers are their families’ primary breadwinners. Many have paid exorbitant agency fees to finance their trip to Qatar, making them easily exploitable.

In 2020, the US Department of Justice accused Qatar of bribing top FIFA officials for a hosting position to exacerbate problems. However, FIFA and Qatari organizers denied these accusations.

International Human Rights Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) Identify Abuses

Two of the world’s leading international human rights organizations, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, have condemned FIFA and the Qatar government for their treatment of migrant workers during the tournament’s preparations.

FIFA did not impose labour protection conditions on Qatar when giving them hosting rights despite their horrific human rights record. Consequently, HRW has documented widespread wage abuses consistent over the last decade, even in 2022. This identifies apparent negligence on behalf of FIFA in upholding its international legal obligations.

Amnesty International Publish Two Reports Detailing Abuse

Amnesty International released a report in 2016. The report stated that FIFA looked the other way while thousands of migrants were made to work in conditions “amounting to forced labour”. Additionally, over 100 workers were subject to human rights abuses by the companies who employed them in their home countries.

“I remember my first day in Qatar. Almost the very first thing [an agent] working for my company did was take my passport. I haven’t seen it since.”

Shamim, a gardener at the Aspire Zone from Bangladesh
The Controversial 2022 Qatar World Cup of Human Rights Abuses
Caption: Migrant workers doing construction works of the Lusail Stadium on December 10, 2019, in Doha, Qatar. Image obtained from Amnesty International.

Furthermore, Amnesty published a second report this year. This report illustrated how migrant workers, mainly from Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Philippines and Kenya, face numerous human rights cases of abuse, forced labour and exploitation.

What Human Rights Abuses Did Migrant Workers in Qatar Face?

  1. Extortionate recruitment fees.
  2. Deplorable living conditions.
  3. Widespread wage theft.
  4. Unable to leave Qatar or change jobs.
  5. Thousands of unexplained deaths.

1. Extortionate Recruitment Fees

Qatari law prohibits employers from charging migrant workers recruitment fees. Nevertheless, the practice continues, and many migrant workers must take extortionate loans to pay recruitment-related fees in their home countries. Many have to “pay to work” in Qatar and end up in huge debts, unable to support their families.

2. Deplorable Living Conditions

One migrant worker described his living conditions for migrant workers as “pathetic”. In some cases, up to 10 people were squeezed into a tiny room with five bunk beds and no space for personal belongings. Additionally, the toilets were outside, and access was inadequate and unsanitary.

3. Widespread Wage Theft

Thousands of migrant workers in Qatar have been subjected to widespread wage theft. One worker described his life when facing wage theft during the construction of the stadiums. He told a human rights organization that:

“Whether it was walking back and forth in the heat to [Qatar’s] labour court, because the taxi fare was unaffordable, or the helplessness I felt with loans stacking up back home, I had even contemplated suicide. The faces of my family members, especially my mother, kept me through those trying times.”

4. Unable to leave Qatar or Change Jobs

Before 2020, migrant workers were prohibited from changing jobs or leaving Qatar without their employer’s permission. Meanwhile, human rights organizations and trade unions reported numerous cases of excessive working hours, forced labour and other abuses.

5. Thousands of Unexplained Deaths

Qatari authorities have also failed to investigate the causes of the deaths of thousands of migrant workers. An unusual number of these are attributed to “natural causes” while working on the construction of the stadiums. Furthermore, new medical reports have concluded that heatstroke is a likely cause of death of workers in Qatar. Moreover, migrants were forced to work under Qatar’s extreme heat and humidity without adequate protection.

“The sudden and unexpected deaths of often young and healthy migrant workers in Qatar have gone uninvestigated by Qatari authorities, in apparent disregard for workers’ lives”

Sarah Lee Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Deaths under “natural causes” are automatically categorized as non-work-related. Consequently, Qatar’s labour law denies families compensation, leaving many of them poverty-stricken in the absence of the family breadwinner.

Most Expensive World Cup of All Time

This is a list of what the World Cup costs have looked like since the United States hosted in 1994:

  • United States 1994: $500 million
  • France 1998: $2.3 billion
  • Japan 2002: $7 billion
  • organizations $4.3 billion
  • South Africa 2010: $3.6 billion
  • Brazil 2014: $15 billion
  • Russia 2018: $11.6 billion
  • Qatar 2022: $220 billion

An Urgent Need For Action

With the World Cup soon approaching, now is the time we must stand up for the rights of these migrant workers and their families.

On May 17th 2022, in a joint open letter, human rights organizations urged FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, to take action. Moreover, the letter urged FIFA to work with the Qatar government, trade unions, and the International Labour Organization (ILO) to formulate a comprehensive programme to remedy all labour abuses to which FIFA contributed.

Qatar has obligations under international human rights law to prevent widespread human rights violations and to ensure remedy for every abuse on its territory. Additionally, FIFA has clear responsibilities under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to remedy these violations.

Furthermore, FIFA has been asked to compensate $440 million in prize money as a token of compensation to the victims. This contribution would represent just a fraction of FIFA’s anticipated $6 billion revenues from the tournament.

Billions of people will tune in to watch the most popular football tournament in the world but will they be aware of the sacrifice, abuse and torture that was endured to make it possible?

Laura Shorten
Laura Shorten is an Irish human rights consultant and researcher based in the Netherlands. Laura qualified with an International Bachelor of Social Sciences degree from University College Dublin. She majored in politics, international relations and social policy. Laura graduated from Technological University Dublin with a Postgraduate Diploma in Law. In 2021, she graduated with an Advanced LL.M in International Children’s Rights at Leiden University. Laura specializes in international law, children’s human rights, political science, international relations, middle eastern studies, refugee/migration law, gender studies, strategic litigation and global diplomacy. Laura has published various articles pertaining to international law and human rights violations occuring worldwide. Laura defended her Advanced Master’s Thesis entitled “An Analysis of the Convention on the Rights of the Child’s Legal Framework in Protecting Children’s Right to Health and Right to Life in the Face of Climate Change”. This thesis is published on the Leiden University website under the Advanced Master of Law Theses for children's rights. Laura has previously worked for UNICEF Ireland, campaigning for children worldwide who are facing discrimination and living in war zones.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.