FIFA Misleading World on Remedy for Migrant Workers
(Geneva) – FIFA is still failing to fulfill its human rights responsibilities by refusing to commit to compensate migrant workers and their families for abuses while preparing and delivering the World Cup 2022 tournament in Qatar, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, FairSquare, and Equidem said today.
Since June 2022, following a coalition of organizations’ call for remedy for migrant workers, FIFA indicated in a series of communications that it was committed to identifying ways to compensate migrant workers who faced deaths, injuries, and rampant wage theft, and to support an independent migrant workers’ center, as part of a legacy program. But on the eve of the tournament, FIFA failed to release any plan to do so and instead announced a new ‘Legacy Fund’ that currently includes no provision for workers’ compensation. FIFA President, Gianni Infantino, also made misleading comments that workers can simply access compensation through an existing mechanism in Qatar, when this mechanism is in fact not set up to provide compensation on any meaningful scale related to deaths, injuries, and historic wage theft.
With the World Cup 2022 entering its final week, the organizations have called on FIFA to use the Legacy Fund to finance compensation for workers and the families of those who died.
“FIFA’s egregious whitewashing of serious abuses against migrant workers in Qatar is both a global embarrassment and a sinister tactic to escape its human rights responsibility to compensate thousands of workers who faced abuse and the families of those who died to make this World Cup possible,” said Tirana Hassan, acting executive director at Human Rights Watch. “FIFA continues to cash in on billions of dollars in revenue but refuses to offer a single cent for the families of migrant workers who died or those workers who were cheated out of their wages.”
In the months before the World Cup 2022 opened, FIFA indicated in a series of statements and briefings that they planned to compensate workers. This included a series of public statements indicating that FIFA was open to compensating migrant workers and supporting an independent migrant workers’ center. At the October 13 Council of Europe hearing on labor rights in Qatar, FIFA Deputy Secretary General Alasdair Bell stated that “compensation is certainly something that we’re interested in progressing,” and that “it’s important to try to see that anyone who suffered injury as a consequence of working in the World Cup, that that is somehow redressed.” FIFA has also previously assured the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Working Group on Workers’ Rights in Qatar that they are “looking into compensation mechanisms.”
Walking back remedy
On the eve of the tournament, on November 19, FIFA President Gianni Infantino responded to calls to ensure remedy for workers by contending that the Qatar Labor Ministry’s Workers Support and Insurance Fund, would take care of compensation. He invited anyone believing they were owed compensation simply to “contact the relevant authorities to seek due recompense.”
The Workers’ Support and Insurance Fund, operationalized in 2020, has been used to compensate workers for wage theft after employers failed to pay out following labor court rulings in workers’ favor. But the fund is not currently set up to be able to provide compensation on any meaningful scale related to deaths, injuries, and historic wage theft in the decade before it was operationalized.
Qatari authorities have also failed to provide disaggregated details about the announced US$350 million reimbursed to migrant workers for wage theft, despite repeated requests by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. In addition, research has also shown that victims’ access to existing compensation mechanisms is rife with obstacles, payments are capped, and that it is nearly impossible for workers or families to apply after they have returned to their home countries.
The biggest obstacle is that in a large majority of deaths of migrant workers in Qatar, families are not eligible for compensation as authorities attributed them to “natural causes” or “cardiac arrest” without proper investigation into the underlying cause of death. Under Qatar’s Labour Law, only deaths and injuries attributed to work related causes require employers to pay compensation.
At the same press conference, FIFA also announced it would establish the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Legacy Fund, to be used on education projects in developing countries. Although the size of the fund is not yet known, previous legacy funds have been set at $100 million. However, the announcement makes no reference to using the fund to finance remedy for migrant workers who suffered abuses to make the World Cup 2022 possible, nor to support an independent migrant workers’ center as called for by trade unions.
“Many thousands of migrant workers have paid illegal fees, had wages stolen or even lost their lives to make the world’s most lucrative sporting event possible. It would be outrageous for FIFA’s Legacy Fund not to recognize their contribution and compensate them for their losses,” said Steve Cockburn, Head of Economic and Social Justice at Amnesty International.
“FIFA can still do the right thing by channeling the Legacy Fund towards workers and their families, supporting a genuinely independent workers’ center, and working with Qatar to ensure that every worker can access the compensation that they deserve. By changing course, FIFA could make a lasting difference to the lives of the true heroes behind this World Cup. Refusing to do so would be a terrible indictment on its commitment to workers’ rights.”
Remedy: A Human Rights Responsibility
In addition, FIFA said it would set aside funding to support the creation of a more general ‘labor excellence hub,’ in partnership with the International Labour Organization (ILO). The role of this would be to share “best practices” in labor matters and support adherence to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in future tournaments. Yet, access to a remedy is a foundational principle of the UN Guiding Principles to which FIFA itself is bound, the groups said.
“World Cup workers and their relatives are contacting us demanding compensation for unpaid wages, recruitment charges, and other harms, including deaths. Rather than shifting the goal posts, FIFA and Qatar should heed these calls. The tournament has been mired by worker deaths and exploitation and significant restrictions on freedom of expression and solidarity with the LGBTI+ community. This is an opportunity for FIFA and Qatar to end the tournament with a positive legacy for the women and men who have made it possible,” said Mustafa Qadri, chief executive officer at Equidem.
FIFA is set to generate $7.5 billion from this tournament and should have fulfilled its own human rights responsibilities under the UN Guiding Principles, which make clear that a business enterprise’s responsibility to respect human rights “exists independently of States’ abilities and/or willingness to fulfill their own human rights obligations and does not diminish those obligations.” FIFA also owes a public explanation on why it switched from “considering” the proposal for remedy to dismissing it completely.
Calls for compensation have escalated since the launch of the #PayUpFIFA campaign on May 19, when a global coalition of human rights organizations, migrant rights groups, labor unions, and fan groups called on FIFA to establish with Qatar a comprehensive program to provide remedy for all abuses related to the World Cup 2022. The football governing body failed to conduct adequate human rights due diligence when it awarded the World Cup to Qatar in 2010 and has failed since then to take timely and effective measures to mitigate and remedy abuses.
By so far refusing to compensate workers, FIFA has ultimately ignored the call by migrant workers and their families for a remedy fund and an independent migrant workers’ center, despite wide support by the global public, football associations, sponsors, political leaders, and athletes. Last week, campaign Avaaz also presented 720,000 petitions from members of the public supporting the campaign. Throughout the cheers for the World Cup teams, frustrations at the human costs of the event have resounded loudly among football’s global fan base.
“Instead of ensuring protection of migrant workers who built and delivered the World Cup infrastructure in Qatar, FIFA has benefited from their exploitation and parroted Qatari authorities’ talking points, showing their complicity to all the misleading claims and deflections on abuses of migrant workers,” said Nick McGeehan, founding director at FairSquare, which investigates migrant labor abuses. “FIFA has tuned out genuine demands for remedy for migrant workers including from the football industry and ignored evidence of widespread uncompensated abuses and the inadequacies of the current compensation systems in Qatar.”