Pro-FIFA ruling in Qatar case highlights migrant workers' plight

Photo of Pro-FIFA ruling in Qatar case highlights migrant workers' plight

The Commercial Court of Zurich has rejected a lawsuit brought against FIFA by labour unions claiming that the world football governing body has failed to use its authority to ensure safe conditions for people working on 2022 World Cup venues in Qatar.

The court rebuffed the claim by the Bangladesh Free Trade Union Congress, with support from the Dutch union FNV, on behalf of a Bangladeshi national who says he was oppressed in Qatar, according to Reuters.

A FIFA statement Friday praised the court for its ruling on claims of "alleged wrongful conduct and liability for human rights violations."

The lawsuit called on FIFA to use its influence to force the Middle Eastern state to adopt "minimum labour standards" for migrant labourers in Qatar, not the least of which is the right to quit a job or leave the country.

Qatar has been a lightning rod for controversy and derision since construction of the World Cup venues began, with the peninsular Arab country employing the "kafala" system, which prohibits migrant workers from quitting their positions or leaving the country without the employer's consent.

Unanimous criticism of labour conditions and worker's rights in Qatar saw the local government introduce a new law last month that would side with a worker's plight, making attempts to quit and leave the country more facile. That decision has prompted several human rights organisations to insist that the changes will do little to curb abuse and exploitation of migrant labourers.

The statement from FIFA conceded that the organisation takes labour conditions "very seriously," adding, "FIFA monitors the situation very closely and ... will continue to urge the Qatari authorities to ensure safe and decent working conditions for construction workers."

Claims of corruption falling on deaf ears

In March, Amnesty International UK released a 50-page report, "The Ugly Side of the Beautiful Game," claiming that as many as 7,000 of the 1.8 million migrant workers in Qatar could die before the tournament kicks off in 2022.

That estimate stems from a report by the International Trades Union Confederation (ITUC), claiming that, "If anything, it's getting worse, because the overall numbers of migrant workers coming to Qatar are rising."

An Amnesty International UK report interviewed 234 workers complaining of the violation of their basic rights. The workers, many of whom are from the Indian subcontinent, were obligated to pay obscene "recruitment fees" to Qatari-based agents, only to arrive in the country stripped of their rights, facing poor working conditions and accommodations, and the confiscation of their passports.

Fortune provided specific examples of the violations of said rights, citing employers' refusal to allow Nepali workers to return home following the massive earthquake in 2015 that killed nearly 9,000.

"For days I did not hear anything from my brother and his family. My mother lives with him so I became too anxious and could not work properly," a Nepali national, Manish, said, courtesy of Fortune.

When Manish asked his supervisor for permission to return home to check on family injured in the earthquake, he said he was told, "this is not possible and left the room. When I followed him outside he got angry and said, 'do not mention this again. You cannot leave for two years (the end of his contract).'"

Recorded fatalities, the testimony of workers, and the efforts of groups like Amnesty International and the ITUC continue to have little impact, as major sponsors remain committed to the quadrennial games despite increased calls for intervention.

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