Allegations of corruption within international football federation FIFA have been making headlines across the globe recently.
Stories of money laundering, bribery, fraud and foul play with the 2022 World Cup being awarded to Qatar are all part of the scandal.
Recently, a staggering statistic from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) added fuel to the fire, stating construction for the Qatar World Cup has already claimed the lives of 1,200 migrant workers. It also estimates 4,000 will die if nothing is done about poor working conditions before the first ball is kicked in 2022.
World Cup or no World Cup, some argue Qatar was already in the middle of a construction boom and those figures can’t be directly linked to the major sporting event. In spite of this, it is hard to ignore the $312 billion worth of infrastructure being poured into the region as a result of the round ball tournament.
What the figures really highlight is the appalling working conditions for migrant workers in the region. ITUC’s 2015 Global Rights Index ranks Qatar as one of the world's 10 worst countries for workers’ rights. Like many Gulf countries, migrant workers in Qatar are governed under the ‘kafala’ sponsorship system, which some liken to modern day slavery. Migrants are often exploited and abused; passports are seized, wages are held or reduced, accommodation is squalid, worksites are often unsafe and exit visas are withheld. In November 2014, approximately 100 migrant workers were arrested and held in the Doha Detention Centre for protesting sub-standard conditions. These included having their contracts torn up upon arrival in Qatar and being forced to work for wages a third less than agreed.
While Qatar revealed guidelines to protect the rights of workers on construction projects in 2014, a year later there’s been "no significant advances in the protection of rights” according to Amnesty International. Jaimie Fuller, Australian CEO of Swiss clothing company SKINS and a campaigner for FIFA reform is now pushing for sponsors to use their power to make real change happen. In May, he told CNN, “When you look at what the current sponsors say they stand for - their values, their principals, and contrast that with what FIFA is doing in the name of football, and what is happening in Qatar, they just don’t correlate.”
To give some degree of credit, three of FIFA’s major sponsors – Adidas, Coca-Cola and Visa – have publicly raised their concerns about working conditions.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter has also chimed in,stating, “more must be done in Qatar to ensure uniformly fair working conditions for all,” but clearly there needs to be more action and more social responsibility from both.
The responsibility to provide safe working conditions is universal, and what’s occurring in Qatar provides an opportunity to reflect on what’s happening on our own soil. Stories of poor working conditions are still alive and prevalent in Australia today. A Four Corners investigation recently reported on the exploitation of migrant workers on Victorian farms. Workers are often abused, assaulted, sexually harassed, underpaid and housed in crowded accommodation. The report also revealed suppliers who were doing the right thing were often losing major supermarket contracts to cheaper suppliers exploiting such workers. Open the social responsibility can of worms.
And while Australian workplace related fatalities pale in comparison to that of Qatar, we can only hope that the one Australian dying every two days at work will continue to be a depleting statistic.
Whether it’s Qatar or Gippsland, let us be reminded that safe work practises are the responsibility of everyone: government, business, investors, individuals, and even organisations putting on really big soccer tournaments.