An astonishing series of articles in the Guardian has begun to unravel the true human cost of hosting the World Cup in Qatar.
In their 26th September piece called ‘Qatar World Cup construction ‘will leave 4,000 migrant workers dead’, the English paper highlights the systematic abuse of immigrant workers in a small oil rich Emirate where the proceeds from oil have made the native population almost universally wealthy.
They have found evidence of at least 40 deaths among the Nepali immigrant worker community in Qatar.
More than 90% of the workforce in Qatar are immigrants and the country initially estimated that another 500,000 will be needed. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is now reported as thinking that the number of migrant workers already in Qatar is over 1.2 million and as many as ’1 million more will be needed to get the country ready’ for the World Cup.
That the Guardian piece runs inside their Modern Day Slavery in Focus section should be alarming enough, but that is nothing compared to the estimate of the ITUC that the poor working and safety conditions will cost 4,000 workers their lives in due course.
Documents obtained from the Nepalese embassy in Doha reveal that at least 44 workers died in a 65 day period between 4 June and 8 August. More than half died of heart attacks, heart failure or workplace accidents.
The Indian ambassador in Qatar also claims 82 Indian workers died in the first five months of this year.
According to the Guardian, the ITUC:
“has been scrutinising builders’ deaths in the Gulf emirate for the past two years.”
They reach their 4,000 figure by an extrapolation of the estimated 600 deaths a year – almost a dozen a week – which they say will continue unless the Qatari government makes urgent reforms.
On September 25th, in a piece called Qatar’s World Cup slaves, the English paper states:
“This summer, Nepalese workers died at a rate of almost one a day in Qatar, many of them young men who had sudden heart attacks.
The investigation found evidence to suggest that 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, during a building binge paving the way for 2022.”
The Guardian investigation also revealed:
- Evidence of forced labour on a huge World Cup infrastructure project.
- Some Nepalese men have alleged that they have not been paid for months and have had their salaries retained to stop them running away.
- Some workers on other sites say employers routinely confiscate passports and refuse to issue ID cards, in effect reducing them to the status of illegal aliens.
- Some labourers say they have been denied access to free drinking water in the desert heat.
- About 30 Nepalese sought refuge at their embassy in Doha to escape the brutal conditions of their employment.
These working conditions are not confined to the World Cup according to the piece, which claims that:
‘throughout the wider Qatari construction industry, men are sleeping 12 to a room … and getting sick through repulsive conditions in filthy hostels. Some say they have been forced to work without pay and left begging for food.’
Qatar was not slow to react to the Guardian’s coverage but sadly not in a way that increases the working conditions of anybody or gives any hope that lives will be saved.
Nepal’s ambassador to Qatar Ms Maya Kumari Sharma had previously described Qatar as “an open jail” to the BBC’s Nepali service, in a comment the Guardian now reported.
Ms Sharma had made the remarks six months ago to the BBC Nepali service. When the Guardian piece highlighted her remarks in their September revelations about the deaths in Qatar, the Qatari government acted swiftly.
They complained loudly enough about her comments that the Nepali government recalled her to Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital.
“The government decided to recall Sharma because her dealings were not according to diplomatic decorum,” Nepal’s Communication Minister Madhav Paudel told the AFP news agency. Chalk one up to the Qataris.
Not everybody is as keen as the Qatari government to distract attention from the issue. The German paper ‘der Spiegel’ highlighted the case of Ganesh, a 16-year-old boy who died in Qatar.
Spiegel claims that the United Nations Special Adviser on Sport Willi Lemke responded to the news by holding a conference call with UN staff members in New York specifically about the teenager’s death.
Lemke concluded that FIFA should consider the option of taking away the World Cup from Qatar “as a final way of exerting pressure.”
Others are already exerting pressure of their own.
Reinhard Rauball is the President of the German League.
He was visceral in his remarks to der Spiegel:
“There can be no World Cup that is based on a system of slavery and disregards human life. The credibility of world football and its moral integrity are at stake.”
The ITUC has now offered FIFA to send an inspection team of its own to Qatar to report on working conditions for the World football body. The Building Wood Workers International (BWI), the global union federation representing construction workers, is sending its own investigation mission to Qatar on 7 October.
The BWI has now started a campaign to remove the World Cup from Qatar unless basic human rights are respected with its “Red Card for FIFA, No World Cup without Workers Rights” campaign.
In the next article on Prost Amerika: Qatar using ‘Slavery’ to build World Cup says Sharan Burrows of the ITUC