Fifa benefited from forced labour of security guards in Qatar - report says

Amnesty International publishes latest allegations of worker exploitation in Gulf state

Fifa and its partner in the 2022 World Cup host nation Qatar, the supreme committee for delivery and legacy, benefited from the services of companies that engaged in abusive behaviour towards migrant employees, according to Amnesty International. In a new report published by the human rights advocacy group, soccer's global governing body has been accused of failing to conduct the necessary due diligence when contracting security companies, leading to workers being exposed to forced labour in the build-up to this year's World Cup.

Amongst the testimony compiled by Amnesty, security guards claim to have been denied time off for as long as three years, financially penalised for taking sick days or toilet breaks without cover, forced to work outdoors in extreme heat and even subjected to racist abuse.

Workers from sub-Saharan Africa claim to often be deployed in the harshest conditions and paid lower than workers from other nations doing the same jobs, while one guard reported being subjected to a racial stereotype as justification for harsh working conditinos. Qatar has no law prohibiting racial discrimination, but it is in breach of the country’s constitution and international law.

The report is the latest in a long line of claims of migrant labour abuse in the Gulf state ever since it was named host of the World Cup in 2010. In 2013 and 2014, Amnesty, The Guardian and the UN all reported on labour law abuses in the country, especially in the construction industry. Qatar has either built or developed a total of eight stadiums in the preparation for this winter’s tournament.

In this 74-page document focused on the security sector, the experiences of 34 guards employed by eight separate companies linked to government ministries, football stadiums and other areas associated with the World Cup such as hotels and transport, have been recorded by Amnesty. At least three of the relevant companies provided services at the 2020 Club World Cup (held in 2021) and the 2021 Arab Cup.

Amnesty acknowledges that the report does not include all Qatari security companies, and that there may be those that offer employees the benefits to which they are entitled. However, the group claims that the consistency in the patterns of abuse reported, in addition to previous investigations of similar issues “indicate the abuses are systemic rather than isolated incidents.” Amnesty believes that the abuse recorded is due to structural problems in the security industry that have been “allowed to flourish” by government inaction in prosecuting perpetrators and providing remedy to those who have been allegedly abused.

Labour laws that improve working conditions have been implemented since Qatar was awarded the World Cup, though enforcement of these in the security sector appears to be lacking. Working weeks are restricted to 60 hours while one fully-paid rest day per week must be offered, yet this can only be taken with an employer’s permission. This is often refused, according to the report.

In March 2021, the Qatari government implemented a mandatory minimum wage, but workers have reported to Amnesty the failure of employers to pay overtime at the legally mandated rate. In 2014, Qatar announced the abolishment of its controversial kafala law which prevented migrant workers from leaving the country without employer permission.

The Qatari authorities have also issued clear guidelines on living conditions, but despite this, 18 of the 34 guards interviewed told Amnesty that their accommodation was “overcrowded and unsanitary.” With migrant workers denied the right to unionise in Qatar, many of the security guards said they feel powerless when it comes to standing up for their mandated labour standards.

Amnesty has called upon Fifa to lobby for more labour law reforms and better enforcement of already existing ones. “With the World Cup just months away, Fifa must focus on doing more to prevent abuses in the inherently perilous private security sector, or see the tournament further marred by abuse,” says Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty International’s head of economic and social justice.

“More broadly, Fifa must also use its leverage to pressure Qatar to better implement its reforms and enforce its laws. Time is fast running out - if better practices are not established now, abuses will continue long after fans have gone home.”

Fifa and the supreme committee did not renew the contracts of two of the three companies providing World Cup security after finding evidence of some of the documented issues. They also reported them to Qatar’s ministry of labour. However, Amnesty believes that not enough detail was offered to ensure the disengagement was done in a responsible manner and that Fifa should have spotted the alleged abuse more quickly.

In response to Amnesty’s claims, the supreme committee said that, despite Qatar’s labour laws, some contractors will always try to “bypass the system,” before ultimately confirming its commitment to deal with those who are not complying with regulations.

Fifa provided this response to The Irish Times: “Fifa does not accept any abuse of workers by companies involved in the preparation and delivery of the Fifa World Cup 2022.

“Fifa and the other tournament organisers are currently focusing on the roll-out of the audit and inspection programme to enforce compliance with the supreme committee’s workers’ welfare standards for more than 150 hotels in the country, as well as on pre-contract audits for the other service companies deployed at the Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022. This includes security companies who will be deployed on Fifa World Cup sites as well as companies providing security services for hotels and other companies linked to the Fifa World Cup 2022.

“As part of its regular and ongoing engagement with Amnesty International in relation to the upcoming World Cup, Fifa has provided detailed information about the cases mentioned in their report and the corrective measures that have been applied with the companies involved.”

Qatar’s ministry of labour also responded, saying that “individual cases of wrongdoing need to be dealt with immediately.” It disputed Amnesty’s claims that these signify “underlying issues with the robust system Qatar has introduced”, and stated that “(T)he prevalence of rule-breaking companies has and will continue to decline as enforcement measures take hold and voluntary compliance increases among employers.”