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Activists: Abuse of Workers in FIFA World Cup Cities

Russia and Qatar are busy preparing for the next two FIFA World Cups. Activists say the two countries have human rights issues they need to correct. They give examples of employers abusing work crews at World Cup sites. Some of the workers are reported to be setting up buildings or other structures for the games. The activists also note a lack of labor protections in both Russia and Qatar. In some cases, they say, the lack of protections has led to death.

In May, the British Broadcasting Corporation documented the jailing of its crew in Qatar. The crew members were arrested after they attempted to film the living conditions of poor migrant workers in Doha, the capital. The workers were helping to prepare the city for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The crew’s cameras were taken and never returned.

The Guardian newspaper reported on Nepalese migrants who worked on a project tied to the World Cup stadium. It said that the migrants died at a rate of one every two days in 2014. Qatar’s Labor Ministry disputes the report.

The group Human Rights Watch says many employers try to threaten or frighten migrant workers. It says some businesses take the workers’ passports so they cannot leave the country.

Jane Buchanan works for Human Rights Watch.

“They are extremely vulnerable, both because of the government’s disregard for basic labor protections and the conduct of employers who act with impunity in that kind of environment.”

Jeff Thinnes is a specialist on business ethics. He says many of the migrant workers are from Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. He says they often are treated as slave laborers. He believes young people around the world will one day protest the workers’ treatment and pressure companies to force Russia and Qatar to make changes.

“I think once the millennials get a hold of this, once you see more traffic on social media, it’s going to force the other stakeholders -- including the corporate sponsors who put their names and their reputations into play when they sponsor activities like those managed by FIFA -- you know, to ask themselves ‘Is this what we should be doing? Is this the best way for us to invest?’”

Jane Buchanan says that Qatar and Russia should protect workers. But she says FIFA also has a responsibility to make sure the laborers are not suffering. And she says the organization must also work to keep from repeating earlier mistakes.

“What we saw with the Sochi Winter Olympics was ramped on exploitation of migrant workers building the infrastructure and venues, (and) real disregard on the part of the Russian government until the very last minute to inspect and hold employers accountable for those abuses. So I think that sends a pretty strong signal that those kinds of practices are basically tolerated.”

Russian lawmakers have proposed using prisoners to help develop areas for the 2018 World Cup. Ms. Buchanan says that could place the prisoners at extreme risk of being forced to work as slaves. She says the Russian government has already weakened labor protections for workers at the World Cup site.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

VOA’s Ramon Taylor reported on this story from New York. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

site – n. the place or area where something is, was, or will be

stadium – n. a sports center

vulnerable – adj. easily hurt or harmed

disregard – n. the act of ignoring something or treating something as unimportant

basic – adj. the most important parts of something

impunity – n. freedom from punishment, harm or loss

stakeholder – n. a person or business that has invested money, time or reputation in something

sponsor – n. a person or organization that pays the cost of an activity or event in return for the right to advertise during the activity or event

reputation – n. public image; the common opinion that people have about someone or something

exploit – v. to use in a way that helps you unfairly

infrastructure – n. the basic equipment and structures that are needed for a country, area or operation to operate properly

venue – n. the place where an event takes place

accountable – adj. required to explain actions or decisions to someone

basically – adv. used to show that a statement is expressing the most important reason for something

tolerate – v. to allow (something that is bad or unpleasant) to exist

Do you believe FIFA should be held responsible for the conditions in which those who are building World Cup soccer stadiums and the surrounding infrastructure live and work? We want to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments section.

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