The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) estimates that the construction for the 2022 Qatar World Cup will cost 4,000 migrant workers’ lives, The Guardian reports. The ITUC has long expressed concern over the “appalling” treatment of workers in Qatar.
Qatar, now the richest country in the world per capita, has been under scrutiny by the ITUC for what they call its government’s “failure to improve employment rights.” According to the ITUC, “Low rates of pay, excessive working hours, a ban on joining unions, poor safety standards and numerous abuses under the country’s strict visa sponsorship system have led to accusations that Qatar is acting like a 21st century slave state.”
The group expects at least half a million extra workers from countries like Nepal, India, and Sri Lanka to be brought in to construct football stadiums, hotels and other buidlings in time for the 2022 World Cup. Based on current mortality rates for Nepalese and Indian workers, who account for the majority of Qatar’s 1.2 million-person migrant workforce, the ITUC estimates that the annual death toll for workers could amount to 600 a year, or almost a dozen per week.
The ITUC blames dangerous and harsh working conditions for the severe death rate among Qatar’s migrant workforce. Last year, the ITUC reported that Qatar broke its promise to consult with international labor experts about the possibility of a new labor law to bring Qatar’s practices up to international labor standards.
“One week ago Qatar’s Labour Minister promised to discuss their draft law with us, but now they are rushing through their government committee plan without any regard for the rights of their workforce,” ITUC General Secretary, Sharan Burrow, said last June. “Nobody should be fooled by this, least of all FIFA, who have pledged to support real labour standards in building the 2022 World Cup.”
This spring, the ITUC criticized Qatar’s supposed “Corporate Social Responsibility” (CSR) approach, consisting of a series of “workers’ charters” that the group described as “being used to paper over the cracks of Qatari labour law.” None of the CSR documents were released to the public or discussed with unions, leaving workers in the dark about their rights, ITUC reported.
“Qatar, the world’s richest country per capita, is using the CSR model used by multinationals in developing countries that has cost hundreds of lives – most recently in factory fires in Bangladesh,” Burrow said.
A Guardian investigation, “Qatar’s World Cup ‘Slaves,’” reveals that during the summer of 2013, Nepalese workers died “at a rate of almost one a day.” Forty-four Nepalese workers died from June 4 to August 8 this year; over half died from “heart attacks, heart failure or workplace accidents.” According to The Guardian,
Workers described forced labour in 50C [122F] heat, employers who retain salaries for several months and passports making it impossible for them to leave and being denied free drinking water. The investigation found sickness is endemic among workers living in overcrowded and insanitary conditions and hunger has been reported. Thirty Nepalese construction workers took refuge in their country’s embassy and subsequently left the country, after they claimed they received no pay.
The Indian ambassador in Qatar reported that 82 Indian workers died in the first five months of this year. Over a thousand others complained to the Indian embassy about working conditions. Over 700 Indian workers died in Qatar between 2010 and 2012, The Guardian reports.
Worker autopsies often reveal heart failure or heart attack as the cause of death, although many of the deceased workers were young men. According to the Guardian report, “thousands of Nepalese, who make up the single largest group of labourers in Qatar, face exploitation and abuses that amount to modern-day slavery, as defined by the International Labour Organisation.”
“The number of workers killed in the construction industry in Qatar each year is up to eight times higher than in the UK and other developed countries,” said Trades Union Congress General Secretary Frances O’Grady. “Football fans everywhere will be shocked to learn of the way in which workers are treated – conditions akin to a modern form of slavery…”
The ITUC has created a campaign to inform the world of Qatar’s dangerous labor practices in attempt to force FIFA to rerun the vote for the location of the 2022 World Cup. The group also hopes to put pressure on Qatar to reform its treatment of migrant workers.
Join the ITUC’s global campaign to encourage FIFA to rerun the vote and “choose a World Cup venue where workers’ rights are respected” at www.rerunthevote.org.