Abuse of migrant workers in Qatar alleged ahead of World Cup

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On the eve of the World Cup, FIFA and Qatar have been confronted with a devastating report alleging recent and widespread abuse of migrant workers helping to build the country’s stadia.

Qatar introduced new laws to protect its vast migrant workforce from exploitation, but investigators for human rights group Equidem claim they’ve exposed a system where serious abuse has continued, and contractors actively hide illegal practices from FIFA and Qatari government inspectors.

Mustafa Qadri, Equidem’s founder, says contractors on World Cup projects went to extreme lengths to cover up what was going on.

Equidem founder Mustafa Qadri. Credit: ITV News

“We're talking about using the fire alarms on Lusail stadium, where the final will be held and getting workers to go to muster points - workers who have no idea what's going on, and then hiving them off onto buses before FIFA's inspectors came," he said.

"So going to those ridiculous lengths to hide the treatment rather than just paying workers in per capita, the wealthiest country in the world."

Their research began in September 2020 and ran until last month.

At the Ahmad Bin Ali stadium, where England will line up against Wales on November 29, Equidem says they spoke to workers who told them they’d not been paid agreed wages, were forced to work in extreme temperatures, had food withheld, were blocked from moving jobs and had paid extortionate recruitment fees to get their roles in the first place. Recruitment fees are illegal.

Across the eight World Cup venues Equidem heard claims of frequent abuse including serious health and safety risks, unpaid or late payment of wages, physical violence, discrimination based on nationality and unhygienic worker accommodation.

All human rights groups are pushing for FIFA and Qatar to set aside a small portion of the billions this World Cup has generated – to fund a migrant workers centre and to set up a compensation fund for families of those who’ve been injured or lost their lives.

Mustafa Qadri says it’s a relatively low-cost solution to many of the issues facing migrant workers. It will also provide the World Cup with a positive legacy.

Across all eight of the World Cup stadiums Equidem has claimed to have uncovered abuse. Credit: ITV News

“What these workers are calling for is nothing dramatic.

"They are saying, I did the work, pay me, or I faced injuries or other harm, so compensate me.

"And create a space, a safe space, not for revolution but so that I can talk to my colleagues, my peers, about what I'm facing and they can help me to get justice or support from employers or the government. It's really that simple."

In response to Equidem’s report FIFA told ITV News that the safety and well-being of World Cup workers has always been an important priority, but they are discussing Equidem’s findings with their Qatari counterparts.

Qatar’s World Cup organisers describe the report as unbalanced and accused it of providing a one-sided narrative.

They say the health, safety and welfare of all their workers is a priority and point to the tens of thousands of hours spent on inspections across all their sites to assess health and safety standards.

In addition, they say, they run a tested and effective grievance system available to all workers on their programmes.

Qatar's Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy said Equidem's report was ''littered with inaccuracies and misrepresentations.'' In a statement, they said: ''The Supreme Committee is transparent about the challenges and progress, accepting constructive criticism, and maintaining dialogue with key stakeholders. The report, released very shortly before the start of the World Cup, is an egregious attempt to undermine and damage the Supreme Committee’s reputation.''

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