How Qatar's World Cup Could End Up Killing 4,000 Migrant Workers

A new report estimates thousands more could die constructing venues for the 2022 event.

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Reuters

A recent report suggests that unless Qatar issues and enforces sweeping labor reforms soon, more than 4,000 migrant workers in the country will die before it hosts the 2022 World Cup.

"The Case Against Qatar," published earlier this month by the International Trade Union Confederation, is a damning one, citing a long list of issues that persist thanks to an archaic immigrant sponsor system. The organization's projected death toll is based on mortality trend data from the Indian and Nepalese embassies provided since 2010, when Qatar won its bid to host the World Cup. An estimated 1,200 Indian and Nepalese migrant workers have died in Qatar over the last three years from work-related causes (which include accidents on the job, heart attacks from heat stress, and illness connected to substandard living conditions). The two countries are estimated to supply near half of Qatar's 1.4 million migrant workers.

The ITUC report says that many of these deaths can be attributed to the country's kafala system, which grants migrant workers very few rights. Under current law, migrant workers must have domestic sponsorship (their employer) who then has control over work conditions, compensation, and the laborer's ability to change jobs or leave the country. 

The report goes on to share personal stories (PDF here) of workers enduring drawn out processes with labor courts, working without pay, and having passports confiscated by supervisors. Qatar has established new legal protections for migrant construction workers in the past year, including a mandatory but self-audited "welfare adherence plan" by contractors, but the ITUC says there's no evidence to suggest these new provisions can actually be enforced. Confiscating passports, for example, is already illegal in Qatar but still happens anyway according to not only the ITUC report, but a Guardian investigation last fall.

Despite the many testimonials on top of similar, previous investigations, Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (which oversees World Cup-related development) told the Wall Street Journal last week that the ITUC's findings are “littered with factual errors and attempts to discredit the positive work we are undertaking.” 

The country is building up an estimated $140 billion worth of new infrastructure in time for the World Cup, including new stadiums, new roads, an airport, and multiple rail projects. A FIFA executive, Theo Zwanzinger, has previously said that working conditions in the host country are unacceptable but that it's neither anything new nor something FIFA has any control over. “This feudal system existed before the World Cup,” said Zwanzinger. “FIFA is not the lawmaker in Qatar.”

The ITUC met with FIFA to discuss their report on Monday. At a press conference last week, the soccer organization did acknowledge some responsibility in the matter, but FIFA president Sepp Blatter added, "we cannot interfere in the rights of workers."

For comparison, the report states that 60 people died from work-related incidents in Sochi prior to the Olympic Games. Seven workers in Brazil have died so far in preparation for this summer's World Cup. 

Top image: Construction cranes and bulldozers operate near Qatar Foundation in Doha June 25, 2013. (REUTERS/Mohammed Dabbous)

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