World football’s governing body FIFA is being sued over the alleged exploitation of migrant workers on construction sites for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
The Dutch trade union FNV, together with a worker from Bangladesh, is taking action in the Swiss courts against FIFA over what human rights organisations have condemned as modern slavery. Qatar’s population has swelled by 750,000 in the six years since the country was awarded the World Cup as it embarked on an ambitious programme of building stadiums and infrastructure.
FIFA did not react publicly to reports in the Dutch media after the lawsuit was filed at the weekend, but the organisation has so far denied responsibility for living and working conditions on World Cup construction sites.
A law firm hired by the Qatari government in 2013 found evidence of dozens of deaths on building sites. Last month two workers took their own lives on site.
Geert-Jan Knoops, professor of international law at Amsterdam University, told De Volkskrant that there was no direct precedent for the case, but the action had a legal basis. ‘Developments in international law have meant that companies and organisations such as FIFA can be held jointly liable for violations of human rights that arise from their investments in foreign countries,’ he said.
De Volkskrant said it had spoken to 31 migrant workers in Qatar on condition of anonymity, 20 of whom said they had had to pay fees to employment agencies or intermediaries to gain work. In some cases the fees were higher than their wages. All but four said they would not have travelled to Qatar if they had known in advance what conditions were like.
Qatar passed a new law in December requiring migrants to get their ‘exit visas’ from the government, a moved designed to regulate the flow of migrant labour and cut out abuses. But Liesbeth Zegveld, a Dutch lawyer who was involved in preparing the case, said workers in Qatar were effectively the property of their employers. ‘They decide when and if workers come and go, work, eat, sleep and get paid. Those are characteristics of slavery,’ she told the newspaper.
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